Deagan's Birth Story [LONG]
posted 25th Oct '11
You don't go into this thinking "I'm going to lose this baby."
Hell, when you see two lines on a test, all thought in general goes right out the window. Once the news sinks in, if you're a first time mama-to-be, you start thinking of names and crib sets and what furniture you want and what college they'll go to and who's eyes they'll have and whether there will be a hot-dog or three little lines on the ultrasound in 16 weeks.
If you're a mama like me, when you see those lines---after the grin of pure joy has melted from your face and you've gotten off the phone with your best friend and your husband is prancing around the living room like he nailed a 14 point buck (or other manly task)---the hope drains out of you. You cling to the tiny shreds of it. You know the miracle inside of you is fragile. You know that even if you do every little thing correctly; even if you don't chew gum with fake-sugars or lift 30lb toddlers, or have a sip of champagne to toast at a wedding; you know it can be taken away all too quickly.
So, while your friends are congratulating you and asking you whether you want a boy or a girl, you're saying "Just, God, please keep my baby safe" and when you get through the first hurdle, you hold your breath and wait for the next instead of enjoying the ride. You try to have faith. You do all the same things you always did. You write in the journal. You take the weekly belly pictures. You post all the details from your doctor's visits. And with every phone call or text or email telling friends and family the good news, you become a little more hopeful. You think "We've made it this far. We can do it!"
You walk into the doctor's office for that first visit and your hands shake visibly. Your head is swimming, racing with a million what-ifs. You've had the first visit that ended horribly. You've been there. You've done it. You KNOW how horrible that is. And yet you manage, somehow, to walk calmly in and undress and put on that robe and sit there, staring down the ultrasound machine, willing it to give you perfect results. Willing it to show you a baby with a beating heart and waving arms. That very same machine has betrayed you before. You've been in this room, so hopeful and full of promise, only to see your perfect baby on the screen and be confronted by utter silence. You hope the doctor has simply forgotten to turn on the sound, but you know. You have seen enough ultrasounds to know that there is no flicker. No tiny heart beating to produce the sound. You hope that THIS TIME it will be different, despite the bleeding. Despite the cramping. Despite all of the signs you've had, you hope and pray that this time it will be different.
So you wait. And when the doctor comes in, she starts to go over your weight, check your breasts, and perform the PAP exam. All the while, you just want to scream "SHOW ME MY BABY!!!" But you don't. You wait patiently for her to finish. You wait for her to finish her lecture about pregnancy weight gain---and assure her that you know what you're doing and only gained 5lbs with your last---at which time she switches from lecturing you about gaining too much weight to telling you to gain MORE weight this time and you simply laugh. Weight gain isn't what you're worried about. And so, at long last, she tells you to lay back again and she lays the blanket across your lap so that you can open the robe to reveal your slightly thickened belly. You're surprised that she suggests an external ultrasound, but don't argue. Whatever lets you see the baby quickest. Whatever shows you a heart beating away at roughly twice the speed of your own, which is now racing. You know there's not much there. Your uterus is no bigger than an orange and the baby only an inch or so long at this point, but you know that whatever that ultrasound sees will forever change you. And so you bite your lip and close your eyes for a second as the gel is applied. And as the wand is gradually lowered. Just before it makes contact, you turn your head to the screen, not wanting to miss a second of seeing your baby. And you wait for the picture to become clear. You see a head and a chest and stare. But it doesn't take long. You see the most wonderful flicker in the world. The flicker of a tiny life inside of you. The heartbeat is strong and so the hope inside you begins to grow again. Hurdle #1 is jumped with flying colors. Your baby is alive. You've made it to 10 weeks. And you know that, even now, this can be taken away. It wouldn't be the first time.
And so you pass the days. You sit on the fence between hope and fear. Some days you lean toward fear as you see the spotting continue. And then, as the spotting stops, you lean a little more towards hope. And, soon after the spotting has gone, you feel a little bump. You hold your breath, half convinced that its merely a gas bubble until you feel another. And you fly. Those little swooshes and flutters you've been feeling weren't your imagination! There's a BABY in there! Someone is kicking you! And you know that this didn't happen the last time, so you start to feel a little safer. The last baby never kicked. The last baby's heart was never strong enough to hear on a doppler, so surely this time you'll make it through to the end. Surely this time you will give birth to something wonderful. And still, you never suspect. Hurdle #2 is crossed. Your baby is alive. You've made it to 12 weeks! But still you know, it can end. But the hope within you grows again and slowly overtakes the fear and you start to say "when the baby comes" more and more and talk about names and pick out bedding sets and start to feel a little more like a naive first-time mama.
And so, feeling full of hope and promise, you tell your toddler about the baby. You explain that there's a baby in mama's belly. He thinks there's one in his too. So, as you lay in bed comforting yourself with a round of listening to the doppler sing out your baby's heartbeat, you let him put the doppler on his belly too. He thinks its funny when he hears a heartbeat in his belly too. And so when he kisses "mama's baby" you kiss his too and tell them "night-night" before drifting off to sleep. And you hope. And as the days pass like this, those kicks become stronger and that heartbeat continues to thump along. And you look down to find that slightly thickened belly has become a definite bump. And you find that you've finally come to the 14th week of your pregnancy. The mythic 2nd trimester. The "safe" zone. The point at which miscarriages become rare. To mark the momentous occasion, you listen to the baby on the doppler one more time, even though the thumps and bumps you're feeling have already told you that your baby lives. And, with the sound of that heart beating on that first day of your 14th week, you mark one more thing off the list. Hurdle #3 is crossed. You are in the second trimester. Your baby lives.
You now think to yourself, "My other losses had stopped growing by now, we've come farther than before." and instead of comparing this pregnancy to your losses, you begin to compare it to the one successful pregnancy. You say "With Smidget I ___, but this time I ____." And start to ponder whether the differences and similarities have any bearing on the gender of the baby. Your friends start to guess what you're having. Your friends and family members tell you what they "want" and all you want is a baby. You think of the pros and cons of each gender, but simply can't even comprehend the idea of having a preference. And so you schedule the gender ultrasound. You're so full of promise and hope now. Baby is moving and grooving, your belly is growing, the bleeding has stopped. All is well! You can make it through! You make the appointment and head in. You are a planner, so you are anxious to find out. You want to know what you're having so you can make all those plans that first-time mother's make. So you can have that experience because NOW you have hope. And you sit there, in a room with your husband, son, and two best friends and you wait. You watch the baby on the screen contorting and playing and generally avoiding the camera. You get beautiful photos of baby's face, but have to fight to see the rest. Finally, after a bit of loving prodding, you get him to open his legs. Its a BOY! And suddenly, you know that is right. That's exactly what you were meant to have. Two boys. Brothers. Perfect little boys perfectly matched to be best friends and mortal enemies. Scraped knees and roars and ER trips and all. That's where you were meant to be. And so you know its right. How could anything so perfect be taken away? You start to gain a little of the denial of a first-time mom again. You think "no way! we're too far into this. I'm going to make it. No way this is getting taken away. Its too perfect" and so you've jumped hurdle #4. Your baby is alive and you have HOPE.
And so the planning begins. You pick out bedding and arrange the nursery. You talk about names in earnest. You think of all of the amazing things you and your two boys will do. You are excited to introduce him to his grandparents and his aunts and uncles and cousins. And so you share the news. You call one set of grandparents and are met with whoops of joy. You call your own mother and hear "well, I'll love him anyway" and you just want to scream "I HAVE A HEALTHY BABY!!! I'd love him if he had two heads and no genitalia at all!" You take a deep breath and call your best friend. She may have (not so) secretly wanted a girl, but she knows you're having a boy and would NEVER try to ruin that for you. So you know you can call her and talk about anything at all. And so you call to talk about baby toes and nursery decor and little boys. And so you hope. And as you begin to plan, the days move more quickly. You put his clothes in his drawers and set up his nursery and start to cut fabric for the bedding. And then things change. Daddy is getting deployed. You're moving "home" with the family. So he won't get his own room. He won't get his own furniture. And you are heartbroken. You lose many of those hopes and dreams you had for his early life. You instantly have Daddy ripped out of all of his "firsts" and that shatters you a little. But you are strong. You make new plans. You add in his grandparents. You add in getting to meet the whole family. You add in trips all over the East Coast visiting friends. You add in Mardi Gras! It will be okay. You'll get through it. And so you begin your plan again. You make new dreams. You have new hopes. And one day you wake up and think "I'm twenty weeks pregnant!" and you know you're half way there. And so you jump hurdle #5 with barely a blink. You've got some confidence now. You'll make it. And hurdle #6 is just ahead. You can see it and you just know you're going to make it. You start your countdown: Only 4 more weeks til viability.
As the week of viability closes in, you just quietly state once a week "Only __ weeks til viability" and then, at 23 weeks, you sit at dinner and you say "only 7 more days til viability" and talk openly with friends about how excited you are and how hopeful and you let your toddler show off his brother-loving tricks including blowing raspberries on your tummy and hugging and kissing his brother and telling him he loves him. He even informs everyone that brother has a weenie. He's very excited too. And so you enjoy your evening. And you have no idea that in a few short hours, you'll be fighting to stay pregnant with every ounce of your being.
You head home and you empty your too-full bladder and you note the ridiculous amounts of discharge you've had for two days. You chalk it up to the crazy pregnancy hormones. All of your friends have complained about the geyser-in-the-pants that happens to them during pregnancy, so you figure its normal and you station yourself on the couch hugging your son until bedtime. And you carry him into the bedroom and diaper him and put him in his jammies for bed and you grab your own jammies and head for the bathroom to empty your too-full pregnant bladder one more time before bed---a nightly routine since you peed on a stick months before. And so you do. All seems normal and so you wipe. And, because you've been afraid so long for so many years, you automatically look at the toilet paper before you pitch it in. And your heart stops. Runner down! Just when the hurdle was close enough you could reach out and touch it, you fall. And so you jump back to your feet and scream "LETS GO NOW!" and pull your pants back up and head straight for the car, your husband and jammy-clad toddler following close behind. You drive yourself to the L&D and undress and lay back on the bed. You can feel him kicking. You KNOW he's alive. So you pray. You pray like no one ever prayed before. You pray it is nothing. Unexplained bleeding like before. You pray it can be stopped. You pray it is nothing. You pray that its not too late. And then they let you hear his heartbeat and you want to scream "I KNOW HE'S OKAY! I CAN FEEL HIM MOVING!!! NOW FIGURE OUT WHY I'M BLEEDING" but you don't. You listen to his heartbeat and try to let it calm you as you patiently wait on the doctor to come. The same doctor who brushed you off when you came in and made you wait, standing, at the front desk for the nurse to come around and help you. It only took a minute, but still. You wait on him.
And he comes in and tells you that you're having your baby. And that he is going to die. And you ask if there is any other way. And he says "it would take a miracle, but if we can stabilize you and get your water bag to recede and your cervix to close, then we may be able to give you a cerclage and ship you down to the NICU hospital" and so you form a plan. He begins to go on about how you're goign to go into labor tonight and have your baby and you simply say, "No, I am not. We're going to make it happen, doc. I am not having him tonight." And so you don't. And you don't have him the next day either. Through sheer force of will and the cunning use of gravity, you manage to keep him in. And then the miracle happens. Your tricky baby avoids the doppler, so the doctor orders an ultrasound. An ultrasound that shows that your water has receded. Your cervix has closed! MIRACLES HAPPEN! And so you begin to hope again. You name him. Deagan Kieran. You start to formulate plans for the coming weeks of bedrest. You begin to hope not for 40 weeks, but for 30. You begin to think about what needs to be done for a preemie and how to make that work with a 2 year old and a military husband. You actually begin to breathe again.
And then the contractions start. And you tell them. And they decide to monitor you. You ask for medications to stop the contractions and they say they're going to keep monitoring you. You ask again and they say they're talking to the NICU hospital to see what the plan is for treatment. You know its all too late. And still you fight. With every contraction you clench your kegels and pray. And then they get so painful that you can't pray during contractions, so you moan. You scream. Primal, aching screams. Screams of horror. Screams of anguish. You moan the dirge of a mother who has lost children and cannot stop another from coming too soon. You whisper his name between contractions and tell him its okay. That you love him anyway. That you will take care of him. The doctors have already told you that they don't believe they can help him, so they won't even try. And so you know that you must give him all that you can for however long you can. And so you moan. And, eventually, you can't stop the pushing. Eventually, no matter how hard you fight the contractions, the pressure is too powerful. And so you ask for pain meds. You ask for something to make the pain stop. You don't want this. You don't want to feel it. Fighting the pain makes it so much worse, but you can't bring yourself to work with it the way you did when you gave birth last time. You can't bring yourself to encourage him to come. And so you take the meds. But they don't help the pain at all. Just make you want to throw up. And so you fight through. The doctor comes and tells you that the baby is dead and that his feet are in the birth canal and the water is already ruptured. And you take a deep breath. That's not true. He's kicking RIGHT NOW. He's pushing on your cervix and butting his backside up against your side. You know he's alive. And so you talk to him. You tell him its okay, that he has to come out now. That his water is broken and that you want to see him before he dies. And so when the next contraction hits, you try not to fight it. You try to force yourself to work with it. You can't bring yourself to push, but you try not to fight.
And the next contraction hits you hard. You feel the pressure. You're sure he's coming. You call out as it peaks and hear a CRASH as your water breaks and splashes against the wall and floor. You cry and scream "Was that him? Did he come out?" convinced that you've launched your tiny baby into the wall on the opposite side of the room. You panic, trying to lift up to see, but the nurse reassures you that it was only your water. The water they said had already ruptured. He reassures you that the baby hasn't come yet. And all pain is gone. With the pressure gone with the water, the pain is manageable again. And so you prepare yourself for the next contraction. And as you feel it peak and the pressure builds again, you feel your tiny baby engage and move into the birth canal. You roll to your side because, somehow, you know that is right. you move up on the bed a little and curl into the fetal position and tell them to get the doctor becuase he's coming. You make it through another contraction as you feel him start to crown. You hear your husband calling for the doctor to come catch the baby as he runs back to your side. And as the next contraction hits, you hear the doctors enter the room and feel your baby slide from your body onto the table, glad that you moved up so that he wouldn't fall to the floor. The doctor is there, lifting him onto your belly with his cord closed by a hemostat. Your baby is alive.
You take him and cradle him and whisper to him about how much you love him and how very sorry you are that you couldn't keep him. How much you wish you had kept him just a few more days. How much his brother and Daddy love him. How beautiful he is. You whisper all these things and breathe him in. You examine every body part. You check him over and count his toes. You deem him to be absolutely perfect. And bigger and far more complete than you ever suspected and 23 week baby to be. You marvel at the perfection you've been given. And you watch him breathe. Something they said he couldn't do. You watch his tiny heart beat through the thin wall of his skinny chest and your heart beats with love for him. You feel his grip on your finger and feel his legs trying to kick. You try to warm him with your own body, with your hands, with the towels. You ask for a cord-clip so that he's not dragging around a heavy hemostat. You absently hear the doctors fretting over the placenta and you push for them once without taking your attention off your amazing son. You introduce him to his brother and they talk. They play. Your toddler tells him his ABCs and counts for him. Your toddler takes stock of his baby brother and names all of his body parts, excited the most over the toes and the weenie. And he kisses him and tells him he loves him as you cradle him. And Daddy gets his turn to hold him and cradle him and kiss him. And then you watch as his breathing slows and is no longer visible except in the flutter of snot at the corner of his nose. You watch as his heart rate slows to the same rate as yours, and then slower. You hold him and kiss him as he begins to struggle. And then you let Daddy hold him for his last few minutes of life.
Finally, the doctor comes in with his tiny preemie stethoscope and listens and proclaims your son to be dead and even though you know its true. Even though you watch the life seep out of him, you want to scream "NO!" and clutch him to your chest and deny it. But you don't. The doctor says you can have as much time as you want, and you want to scream "I'll take 60 years, thanks!" But you don't. You simply hold your son and try like hell to memorize every perfect dark hair on his head, every vein in his face, every curve of his fingers. The shape of his toenails, the swirls of fine hair on his back. The point of his chin. The fact that he did not have inverted nipples like your first! The kneecaps. His long legs. His gargantuan feet. His perfect little ears plastered to the sides of his head by the birth-cheese. You wonder whether he would have had an innie or an outie, but find it more interesting to wonder if his eyes were pale like yours or brown like Daddy's. You marvel at how much he looks like your first. You marvel at his very existence and how hard he fought. You are in love.
And, slowly he gets cold. Slowly his skin becomes clammy. So you let them take him for a bath and then you hold him more. You weigh him and are amazed that someone who seemed to take up all the space in the room could possibly weigh less than a pound and a half. You wonder how someone can seem so long when they measure only 11.5 inches. You wonder how someone can be so beautiful even after they have died. And you know it is because they had a beautiful soul. And so you wait. And you know it won't get any easier to let him go, so you finally do. And you are wheeled off to recovery as they take him down to the morgue. And you are empty. A hole has opened in your soul and you know nothing will ever fill it. And so you sob as you are taken upstairs and admitted to a room. You sob as you shower. You sob as you lay in bed praying to wake up and discover it has all been some horrible dream.
And the next morning you awake and you put one foot in front of the other. Because that's what you do. Deagan was a fighter and he gets that from his Mama. So you continue to take it one breath and one day at a time. You know you'll be okay because you're strong like him, but it doesn't stop you from wishing that you didn't need to be this strong.
And you know, you never plan to lose a child. Sometimes that fate chooses you and you are left to pick up the pieces. And people tell you not to plan. They tell you to take life as it comes. But you know that planning is a part of hoping. And hope is sometimes all you have left.
So I will plan. And I will hope. And, most of all, I will have faith. Faith that God would not give me this task without reason. And, even more, faith that He would not give me this all-consuming desire---nay, this need---to become a mother. The need to grow someone inside me and the need to bring them into the world and love them and provide for them all of the best things in life; things which are not things at all, but simply a mother and father who love them beyond all else and will support them no matter where life leads them. He has given me a lot of love that I hold inside that aches to have a place to go. And so I must have faith that God will give me enough places for it to go to hold it all. Until then, I sit here aching with so much love that I may burst at the seams.