(Trigger Warning: Premature Birth Experience)
“We’ll need to transfer you to another hospital. We aren’t equipped for a preemie this small.” Those were the words that drove home the reality of the situation I was in.
I had gone in for a routine 30-week check, pregnant with my first baby, and my blood pressure was high. Too high. Going into the appointment I actually felt fine and just needed to get it done because someone was covering for me at work so I had to get back. The doctor checked again and again and eventually sent me to the hospital. There, they checked to see if my blood counts were okay and if the pressure would come down on its own. With time, it evolved into even higher numbers on the blood pressure machine, then sudden drops in pressure, and eventually I was fully admitted. They administered medication to keep me from seizing but nothing was working. I then heard those fateful words and, after my first ambulance ride, arrived at a hospital with a NICU that was prepared to help bring a 2-pound baby into the world. Finally, my numbers stayed in a better range and I was told I could go home on bed rest if they would stay level for 24 hours after coming off the anti-seizure medicine. At 4 a.m. the next day, I awoke to a tightening in my chest as my liver and kidneys began to shut down. I had gone preeclamptic and was wheeled to emergency c-section. Our 2-pound baby never made the traditional cry, but was rushed through a window right before I lost consciousness.
Needless to say, I was launched into a motherhood I wasn’t ready for, nor the kind that I had imagined for myself. It included phrases like “three holes in his heart,” “a cyst on his brain,” “a tethered spinal cord,” “deaf in one ear.” Then others such as, “spinal meningitis,” “lumbar puncture,” and “the insurance may not cover…” Day after day we pushed, we prayed, we watched, I cried. Day after day we met the right people, were loved by many, and were lifted by angels both seen and unseen. Day after day I was stretched and molded.
For ten weeks while my baby stayed at the hospital, I made myself get up in the quiet of the night to pump. No snuggles or baby smells. I longed for the bonding, to see those sleepy eyes or even hear the tiny cry. Instead… For ten weeks I learned to focus my mind and body to respond to a baby who wasn’t there and, in so doing, began to deeply understand the real link between a mother and her child. Weeks later, no one but me realized the change in his behavior which led to the tests and lumbar punctures to make sure he was okay. I had learned how to be his mom.
For the first two weeks, the medications I was on required me to rely on others to drive me to and from the hospital every day while my husband worked. Because of the opportunity of riding with various volunteers from my church congregation, I grew friendships I would not have otherwise. I witnessed true Christlike service every single day. One friend in particular showed me what it meant to ‘see the need.’ She called me up and told me she would be arranging my rides so that I didn’t have to worry about it. Each day I would get a text of who would be taking me in and who would be picking me up. I can’t describe what that meant to me. I witnessed all of their service and vowed to follow their examples.
For four weeks I had to trust his little heart to get stronger. Sometimes his rate would drop so low that the alarms would sound and I would panic. With time, I was told to let him be, even with those alarms sounding, to see if he would pull out of it on his own. It was torture! But because I didn’t intervene, his body did learn to handle it on its own. It is a lesson I see shadows of all over in motherhood: Give them room to learn how to handle it on their own, but be ready to step in when they can’t.
Within those ten weeks I went from learning how to change a diaper without dislocating his hips, to how to work the saturation machine and oxygen tank he was brought home on. I evolved from merely an observer at the meetings with all the specialists who cared for him, to an advocate who stood up for his needs. I had to learn a whole new vocabulary of medical terms and treatments. And, while his condition started out so fragile and his little body was up against so much, I watched as he overcame each and every hurdle. As for me… I became the mother I never would have been otherwise.
Was this how I imagined motherhood would be for me? No. Was I ready for all that I would face when it came? No. Would I go back and do it differently? Also, no. I was molded and changed by deep understanding in those quiet, lonely nights. I was shaped by witnessing true service and growing friendships simply because I needed help. I had to trust and truly see the strength of my little one as his heart grew. I watched as he overcame all that was against him, and as I evolved as a person. It was a process that took time. It was painful. It was life-changing. It molded me into who I am now.
Here we are, nine years (and two kids!) later, and I still face challenges that stretch and change me. I hope to always respond with a willingness to be molded into something greater.