I sit down to write this at 11:55 p.m. on December 30th, 2017. One year ago right about now I was in Labor and Delivery triage at Community Hospital North getting hooked up to lots of monitors. I hadn’t felt Henry move in a few hours, so to be cautious my doctor had me come in. The nurses found Henry’s heartbeat quickly, and I was immediately relieved. I figured they would send me home where I would wait for labor to start naturally. I was 36 weeks into the pregnancy, so I had a couple weeks left. Instead, because my blood pressure was elevated, the doctor decided to induce labor.
I was going to post a Facebook status about this. Something like, “One year ago I was heading to labor and delivery to have Henry!” or something cute like that. Something inside of me couldn’t do it. I’m not sure why. I realized a few moments ago that I never wrote down Henry’s birth story, so perhaps now is the time.
Let me start by saying that I adore my son. He is a bright and shining gift to our family, and has completed us in so many ways. He is seriously the happiest baby I have ever met. He is constantly smiling, flirting, cuddling. I am so happy to be his mother. That said, this has been a really difficult year. Poor guy. None of it is his fault. He just happened to jump into our life at seriously the hardest time I can remember. If not for him, I would probably be tempted to just pack 2017 away and forget about it forever.
A lot of parents of micro-preemies will talk about the grief they experienced because their pregnancies didn’t go the way they wanted. Micros are born under really serious circumstances, so the idyllic birth scenarios we dreamed up in our heads flew right out the window. This really wasn’t the case with Hannah. Other than the fact that she came way too early, everything else about her birth was pretty standard. She happened to be head-down when my water broke, so I was able to deliver vaginally. We had plenty of advance warning that she was coming, so my mom and my sister were able to be in the room with me, as I had wanted. Other family members were in the waiting room, just as I had wanted. Hannah was born (very small, very early), and I got to hold her for a quick moment, close to what I wanted. Also, if we are looking for perks to a crummy situation, vaginally birthing a 1 lb. 10 oz. baby requires almost NO healing time, so that was pretty great. So really I don’t have a lot of grief over Hannah’s birth, other than the timing of it. I do, however, have grief over the birth of Henry.
Once I got far enough along with Henry’s pregnancy that I wasn’t worried about having another micro-preemie, I started to really build up my ideal birth scenario in my head. I met with my friend, Heidi, who is pregnant now with her 10th child (yes, TEN), and gives birth at home in her bathtub with no epidurals. She gave me some tips and encouragement, and I was ready to give birth to Henry with no drugs! My mom and my sister were going to be there with Matt and me as we welcomed our baby. I was going to push him out of me just like I had seen on TV, and they were going to place his wriggly, slimy, pudgy body on my breast, and I would kiss him and cry and Matt would be there to brush the hair off my sweaty forehead and gaze at his newborn son. We would go home after a couple days, and bask in newborn bliss.
Instead, I found myself being induced. Okay, fine, I can roll with it. I’m not one of those uptight moms with a rigid birth plan. I can swing with things. No big deal. The Labor and Delivery floor was close to capacity, so I got assigned to one of the very few rooms that didn’t have a window in it. Okay. Fine. (If I knew then how long I was going to be there, I probably would have kicked up a fuss of some kind.) I got to experience a balloon catheter that was supposed to assist my cervix in dilating before the Pitocin started. (That was fun…) Just the pain of having that dang thing removed was enough to remind me of the contraction pain I felt with Hannah. I wimped out, and asked for an epidural. (In my head I was going through all the ways I could tell Heidi my birth story without telling her this part. I felt like I let my girl down!) My mom came to the hospital. So did my sister and brother. It was starting to look like we were going to have a New Year’s Eve baby! The day progressed, but my cervix did not. Despite lots of contractions, it just would not dilate past 5 centimeters. We waited. And we waited. And we waited some more. My grandmother had fallen and broken her hip a day or two before, so my mother left to care for her and to check on my dad. My siblings went away to celebrate New Year’s Eve in much more exciting places. I got more and more discouraged as the hours went on. Every time someone came in to check me I would pray and pray and pray for more centimeters, but I just was not happening. 2017 rolled in at some point, and we said goodbye to the possibility of claiming Henry on our 2016 tax returns.
Around 7:30 in the morning on January 1, my doctor informed me that she thought it would be best for Henry and me if they moved forward with a c-section. My blood pressures were still a little high, and I was developing a fever. There was concern for Henry’s well being, so I agreed to it right away. The panic that came over me was uncontrollable. I couldn’t stop trembling! They prepped me for surgery, and I just cried and worried and tried to be calm and pray, but man was I a mess. The doctor informed me that a NICU team would be in the OR ready to assess Henry as soon as he was born. I was told that since he was far enough along, they would not need the neonatologist there. They got me on the operating table, and the panic only worsened. The position I had to lay in meant that gravity was pushing Henry up towards my lungs. I was also sick at the time with some sort of respiratory bug, so I already felt like I couldn’t breathe. And the panic was still with me too, so I literally thought I was going to suffocate right there on the spot. I kept asking if they could give me something for my nerves. I told them I couldn’t breathe well. They told me to stay as calm as I could, and Henry would be out soon. The anesthesiologist sat right by my head to give me anxiety meds of some sort as soon as the baby was out. I felt my belly open. I felt people pulling. I heard my body parts being shuffled around. I saw my tiny doctor stand on a stepstool and dive headfirst into my open stomach to retrieve my baby. As Henry vacated my uterus, I suddenly felt able to breathe, and then I immediately woozed out from whatever the anesthesiologist pushed into my veins to calm me down. I knew they were putting me back together. I knew they were stapling me back up. I looked across the room, and saw Henry’s body lying on a table, limp and seemingly lifeless. I remember thinking, “Oh hell no, kid. I did NOT just go through all of that for you to die now.” At some point I remember hearing someone paging Dr. Lewis on the Vocera. Dr. Lewis was one of the neonatologists that treated Hannah. Why was Dr. Lewis needed? What was going on? I’m sure they were telling me, but I kept falling in and out of sleep. Matt says I snored as they stitched me up. Suddenly the atmosphere in the operating room changed. Henry was breathing. A sigh of relief came over me. I do remember Dr. Lewis sitting in the chair by my head, holding my hand, telling me that Henry looked great and that everything was fine. (BTW, I love this man. He’s a wonderful doctor.) I didn’t get to hold my son before they took him to the NICU. From my vantage point, it was quick and dirty. Get her in. Cut her open. Take him out. Staple her up. Get her back to her room (with no windows).
(What I didn’t know at the time was how many of our NICU friends were praying for us and thinking about us during this labor and surgery. Our friend, Whitney, who was one of Hannah’s primary nurses, came down during labor to cheer me on. I really wanted to have that baby while she was on! (Spoiler alert: I didn’t.) I’m told there was a minor incident where nurses fought over who was going to get Henry. By the time I got up to his room a couple hours later, it was already decorated with a cute HENRY sign, stuffed toys, a handsome knit hat, and books for our babe. With the exception of Whitney, who left for vacation before Henry was even born, all of Hannah’s primary nurses cared for Henry the few days he was in the NICU. I can’t even tell you how much I love and adore those folks.)
One of two pictures taken during Henry’s birth. The other was during the surgery, and a nurse stepped right in front of Matt when he was taking the picture. Sorry Henry. Your sister has about a hundred photos of her birth, but this is all you got.
The first time I stood up after surgery I was NOT prepared for the searing pain that shot through my abdomen. I felt my knees buckle, and thankfully I was close to the bed where I collapsed down from the shock of the pain. There are people out there who will tell you that women who give birth via c-section haven’t really birthed their child. That we took the easy way out. Well screw that. Those people are buttholes who have no idea what they are talking about. Recovering from that surgery was miserable. You know they want you to pee and poop after surgery, right? Do you know how hard it is to poop when you’re recovering from c-section? When you’re already constipated because you’re pregnant and hopped up on prenatal vitamins? Miserable guys. It was awful.
And the hormones that raged through my body made me have hot flashes over and over and over again. I remember being in Henry’s room in the NICU trying to nurse him, and the lactation nurse, Becky, was assisting with the nursing AND MOPPING MY FOREHEAD AT THE SAME TIME. I was a mess. Figuratively and literally. I would go to my room (without windows) to try and get some rest, and I would be freezing cold so I would bundle up. I would wake up a couple hours later pouring sweat. Seriously pouring. A couple times I remember being woken by the sound of the sweat dripping onto my pillow. So gross. Come to find out, my cold/hot/cold/hot stuff was probably aided by the cellulitis that had infected my c-section incision. So now I’m in terrible pain, and people just keep poking and prodding my incision to check the infection and healing. And do they let you go home when you have an infection? No. I mean, obviously not, and I’m grateful for that. But guys, I just kept staying at the hospital in my room with NO WINDOWS. (Do I sound spoiled? I feel like I do, but I can’t help it. As the days drew on, the fact that I had no natural light really got to me.)
A day or two after the operation, one of the doctors from my practice mentioned something about that breathing thingy they give you after surgery. (I just looked it up. It’s called an Incentive Spirometer. It’s like a handheld game to encourage you to take deep breaths. Less fun than a Game Boy, but more fun than nail clippers.) She said, “Have you been doing your breathing exercises with your thingy?” And I said, “No. I don’t have a thingy.” She said, “Well, we need to get you a thingy. ‘Nurse So-And-So (I don’t remember this nurse’s name. She was kinda mean.), get her a thingy.” And off she went to see her other patients. But Nurse So-And-So never got me the thingy, and I forgot all about it. The next day a different doctor from the practice said, “Do you have your thingy to do your breathing?” and I said, “No, I didn’t get a thingy. Someone was supposed to get me one yesterday.” and he said, “Oh, well I’ll make sure you get a thingy.” But alas, no thingy was to be had. Let me just say here that if someone gives you an incentive spirometer after surgery and tells you to use it, do as you’re told. I really needed that thingy, but I didn’t know it. My infection finally cleared up and my fever went away, so I got to go home. We got home with the new baby, introduced the children to each other, and tried to settle in for bed. I lay in my bed, which I missed VERY MUCH, and tried to sleep, but I just could not catch my breath. I kept tossing and turning and trying different positions to see if I could breathe better by laying a different way, but nothing worked. And in true Katie fashion, I started to panic about it. I mean, you probably wouldn’t like it if you weren’t able to breathe well. Anyway, what was I supposed to do? I wasn’t allowed to drive. Was Matt supposed to load me and a toddler and a newborn baby into the car in 2 degree weather and drive me to the hospital? No. Like all grown and responsible women do, I called my Mommy. She came to get me, and she took me back to the hospital I had just left. I was convinced I had a blood clot that had turned into a pulmonary embolism or something, so my anxiety was up there. After lots of tests and things, it was discovered that I had atelectasis. One of my lungs was partially collapsed – probably because I hadn’t been using my breathing thingy. So anyway, use your thingy.
So now I’m home. Henry is home. I’m still sick, and so are Matt and Hannah. I just want to lie in bed all day every day. I don’t care about anything or anyone. The first day of that wasn’t really scary. After three days or so, I started to get worried. Thankfully we live in a world where people talk about postpartum depression a lot more than they used to, so I thought maybe something could be up with that. I already had an appointment with my OB to get staples removed the next day, so I made sure to talk to her about my feelings (or lack thereof). Did you know that my practice has a Behavioral Health person on staff? I didn’t, but I found out that day. She came right in and talked to me about what was going on, and we set up a few appointments for me to come and chat with her about how I was doing. My doctor increased my Prozac to help me out, and lickity split I felt like a better mom.
Then on Henry’s 11th day of life, we took him to the pediatrician. Whatever respiratory thing Matt and Hannah and I had seemed to have moved on to Hanky Panky, and we wanted to make sure he was okay. He was not okay. He had RSV. Respiratory Syncytial Virus is something we were definitely aware of. It’s talked about a lot in the NICU. They’d sooner let a leper through the doors of the NICU than someone with a runny nose. To adults RSV just looks like a common cold. Sniffles, cough, etc. To the medically fragile, like tiny babies and very elderly, RSV can be deadly. We did everything we could to keep Hannah from getting RSV her first winter. She had to get a shot once a month called Synagis that was supposed to help keep her from getting sick. We kept her home from church, shopping, etc. We told people they couldn’t hold her or touch her. If anyone sneezed, I grabbed her and ran home. It was crazy. I keep telling myself that I should have done more to keep Henry from getting sick, but really what could I have done? Everyone who lived in our house was sick. I guess he was bound to get sick too. RSV landed Henry in the pediatric ward of the hospital for 8 days. We could do nothing but sit by his bed and wait for him to get better. He was such a champ. Hannah got shuffled between Grandparents and Aunts and Uncles some more. Poor kid. By the time Henry was discharged, my hormones were more manageable, and our homecoming got a do-over. Whew.
The next few months were pretty good. Exactly what you would expect from life with a toddler and a newborn: lots of diapers and feedings and pumping and cartoons and cuddles and naps. My mom had both knees replaced. Matt’s dad had back surgery. We did everything we could to help both households keep going through recovery. Grandma was still recovering from hip surgery, so we would visit her and help as much as we could while she was in rehab. Right before Easter, we were contacted by our District Superintendent letting us know that Matt was being reappointed. We drove to the new church the next day to meet with some of the leadership there, and just like that we were moving to Vincennes First UMC. How on Earth were we supposed to leave our family, almost all of who lived just a few miles away? How were we supposed to say goodbye to our friends at Smith Valley UMC who had been so supportive of us as we navigated a canceled adoption, Hannah’s pregnancy and hospitalization, and Henry’s pregnancy and birth? These people loved us. Loved our children. We loved them right back, and we had to say goodbye. Oh, and never mind the logistics of packing up a whole house with a toddler and a newborn. Somehow we made it work, and we didn’t leave much behind. A friend found a sippy cup in the fridge. Otherwise, I think everything made it to Vincennes. J We were welcomed warmly, and we really do love it here. The new church is a great fit for Matt. The home they provide for us is lovely and spacious. I love everything about Vincennes except where it is located. I just wish we were closer to our family. 2 hours isn’t horrible, but it’s pretty far away for me. Making friends here has been really hard for me, and I battle depression a bit here and there.
Since we moved to Vincennes we have experienced great loss. Matt’s best friend, Brad, died very unexpectedly at the beginning of August. A beloved church member passed away a week later. That same weekend a dear friend died from a drug overdose. In October Tom Petty died, which I realize isn’t a big deal to most people, but he means a lot to my family. Worse still, my grandmother passed away towards the end of October in her nursing home. We have grieved quite a bit in the last couple months. All the while we chug along and adjust to our new home and learn a new town and new people. It’s really been a crazy year.
I feel like there have been very high highs and very low lows this year. Some would call it a roller coaster ride, but I really like roller coasters. I have not liked all of this. Sometimes I grieve over the way Henry’s birth turned out. What if I had just been calm and not gone in that night? What if I had not decided to get an epidural? Would I have been able to progress further and faster if I could feel my contractions and let my body do what it needed to? If I hadn’t gone in that night and been induced, maybe I would have been recovered from my respiratory bug before Henry was born and he wouldn’t have gotten RSV. I don’t know. And really I know it doesn’t matter now. What DOES matter is that Henry is here, and he is healthy, and he is happy. God was with us through those crazy days at the start of his life, and He remains with us today.
So perhaps 2017 has been a craggy, broken mess of a year. Lots of tears and heartache and anxiety and anticipation and newness. Looking over this year though, I can see that my little Henry James – my Hanky Panky, Hannah’s Bubbo – has been a soothing balm that has settled into the cracks of this year and brought joy and healing to our hearts. I’m so very thankful to be this boy’s Mama.
My Hanky Panky’s first Christmas