Friday, October 08, 2010

Dispatches from the Other Side

In the Moment

My daughter has her father’s chin and his nose, and it looks like she will have his big, bright blue eyes, too.

She also has his lungs, not mine, and I’m hopeful her immune and autoimmune systems will follow suit.

She has jaundice and some related feeding issues but compared to what we thought we’d have to worry about if she came when I was hospitalized at 28 and 32 weeks and when I went into labor at 34 weeks, these issues are definitely not major ones. It is all relative.

She only spent one night in the NICU and overall she is doing fantastic—she is a happy, calm, easygoing baby who grows more alert and active by the day, who has hilarious facial expressions and endearing little sounds and motions.

(And she is ours! There are times when it still does not feel real, this thing that happens for other people that amazingly, has happened for us, too.)

She is an absolute joy.

Pregnancy and Chronic Illness….
I consider the opportunity to carry her the great privilege of my life.

In many respects, I loved being pregnant: I loved feeling her squirm. I loved rubbing my hand on my stomach and feeling her kick in response. I loved knowing her movements and her patterns so intimately. But I cannot express the profound relief I have in not being pregnant anymore.

I see even more clearly now how tenuous the tightrope I walked on was, and just how difficult things were, especially toward the end. I should say that until the third trimester, and ignoring the bed rest/blood pressure situation and the preterm labor, things with my lungs could have been much worse, and we continue to be grateful for that.

Now, about the labor and delivery. We fought so hard for each day she remained on the inside, especially the last few weeks, but we’d reached the point where my body couldn’t give anymore. We were 37 weeks, and had gotten further than anyone expected, especially after all the hospitalizations the preceding few weeks. I staggered into my doctor’s office, hardly able to breathe. My blood pressure was creeping up higher and higher, and in the day since my last visit, I’d gained several pounds of fluid. Things were deteriorating rapidly.

We were sent upstairs, to the floor and staff we knew so well by now, and nurses and residents cheered us on, excited we were being admitted and this time, it was to actually have a baby.

Naively, we hoped that since I’d had painful contractions for a solid month, the induction would move along. I had strong, pitocin-induced contractions every two minutes for 24 hours before I got an epidural, and that time included a mechanical dilation that failed to progress things much and many other interventions. When the internal fetal monitor showed the baby was in distress, the epidural went in and we almost had an emergency c-section. They cranked up my oxygen further, and the baby’s heart rate improved. All told, 34 hours later, with two and a half hours of pushing, my little girl arrived, safe and sound.

The hardest part was the chronic illness dimension; namely, having enough air to push. I’ve never been on more oxygen in my life than when I was delivering her, even when I was in the ICU, but it got the job done.

(The whole labor/delivery was complicated and long, but my doctor and team were committed to avoiding a c-section unless it was truly a life-or-death matter because it would complicate how I recovered from the deterioration of my existing health conditions. Ironically, if I’d been healthy, they probably would have done a c-section at some point in the process.)

The best evidence it was the right time? After 34 hours of labor, after not sleeping for 40 hours prior to the induction, preceded by weeks where I did not sleep more than 1-2 hours a night, after a month of contractions—after all that, I still felt better within 5 minutes of delivering her than I had in many, many months. Compared to the third trimester, the ordeal of delivery wasn’t nearly as bad. Everything is relative.

Her healthy squall while she was weighed and assessed assured me she was doing very well, too. It was amazing to finally meet this little person whose face I’d seen on dozens of ultrasounds, whose heartbeat I’d proudly listened to during many non-stress tests.

She was here, and she was okay, and in so many ways, I could finally exhale.

As I started to mention before she was born, it was the emotional intensity of pregnancy and chronic illness, especially during the third trimester, that was crushing at points. It really hit me when we came home and I could move around without worrying my blood pressure would harm her or cause a stroke; when I could lay down flat without suffocating; when I could walk around the block without worrying about oxygen saturation and if she was decompensating; when I could go out in public places without worrying an infection would put both of us at great risk.

It also really hit me when I returned to the hospital for my two-week check-up. I tensed up being back there, back to the scene of so many appointments and tests, often several a week. This time, I did not have to update an anxious husband with the latest results or hold my breath until the technician told me she passed her latest test. I could walk by the admitting office without being escorted to an inpatient floor. I could go home and spend my day with a happy, smiley infant instead of worrying about prematurity, preterm labor, and various fetal outcomes.

In so many ways, I could finally exhale.

Parenting and Chronic Illness
Admittedly, I only have a couple weeks’ experience to discuss. What I can say is that chronic illness and this pregnancy did prepare me for some parts of life with a newborn. The actual labor-related pain/discomfort felt minor compared to everything else. Even a few hours’ sleep is way more than what I got for months, so I am used to functioning in this zone.

Someone commented to me once that the waiting makes all of this even more precious, and it absolutely does. Every single second of the long journey, every moment of waiting, was so worth it. And when I hold her and she snuggles up under my chin, or opens her eyes wide and meets my gaze, or I watch my husband rock her, all the waiting and the intensity are nothing but memories from a different life, a life that hinged on “if.” If we should do this, if she would be okay, if I would be okay, if we would ever have a family.

We have crossed over to the other side, one defined by her, not by uncertainty. We are so thankful she is doing well and so grateful she is in our lives. If the illnesses and stress make us even more mindful of how lucky we are and how precious she is, I’ll take that.


elizabeth said...

What a lovely and - if you'll excuse me for saying so, surprisingly coherent -- post for someone who's just been through all that you have. I am once again so impressed by your strength and perspective, and so, so happy for you! Congratulations!

Audrey said...

Can I "like" this post? :p She's beautiful!!!

Better Woman Now said...

Congratulations on your miracle. I hope that she is free of all of the health conditions that plague you and that you find healing as well.

WinnyNinny PooPoo said...

what a beautiful miracle she is!!!

Hoping your body recovers and gets stronger as she grows!!!

Never That Easy said...

Hooray! I loved this post, and (as always) your honesty about the complexity of your situation. I am just so glad that both of you are doing well, that you're both improving, and that you've all made it to this less uncertain, more precious place.

VAF said...

Very beautifully written. Congratulations again! You are an amazing women, Laurie, and you are already proving yourself to be an amazing mother, illnesses be darned! I'm so, so thankful that everything turned out well for your family.

Emily said...

Can I say congratulations again?

I am so happy for you all that she got here safely; through much hard work!

What a beautiful little girl!

Rachel said...

You are truly amazing - so glad you were able to make "if" a reality. :)

Leslie said...

Congrats, Laurie! Glad to her you are all doing well!

Anonymous said...

Beautiful Baby....beautiful words...beautiful family. Congrats!

shoshana kleiman said...

She is so precious. Congratulations! You and your hubby did a great job. Please G-d, you should have the strength to be great parents in spite of your illness.

shoshana kleiman said...

Congratulations! She is beautiful. Have a speedy recovery from the birth and a complete healing. All the best for you, your husband, and you new daughter.

Katgirl said...

Your pregnancy sounds frighteningly similar to mine. Our son is 5 years old and my memories of the anxious days of my pregnancy are still crystal clear. After all that hard work, we were blessed with a wonderful child. I am immensely grateful that he is healthy, smart, and incredibly fun. Your daughter is beautiful. Congratulations and enjoy getting some more sleep :-)

Ali said...

Love your blog - I'm also a chronic pain blogger

claire said...

She is beautiful! Congratulations! I also suffer from a chronic illness and I have been blessed with two beautiful healthy children. There were many struggles to overcome through my second pregnancy, but every second was worth it.
Thank you for sharing your experiences with us!!!

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