So baby was a month behind growth, and they told me I had to go to Cooper hospital in Camden. Scott and I get there, and they say they have no idea what’s wrong with me, but that I’ll be there a few days for tests. Tests come back negative, but I’m dropping a gram of protein in my urine. That means probably preeclampsia. Which means bedrest until the baby’s born. Hospital says, you’re in here for the long haul.
Scott buys me a Nintendo DS and Zelda. Brings me clothes, books, food that doesn’t suck as hard as the hospital food. I think he doesn’t know what to do, so he spends money.
The doctors were never hopeful – they sent a doctor up from the NICU to talk to me about the survival rate of 23 week old babies (gestationally, that’s what she measured, although I was 28 weeks). She was only 500 grams, which is the absolute minimum for a baby to survive. Emphasize survive – not thrive. Babies born that small usually have issues in life; reduced intelligence, blindness, lung and heart problems. That’s if baby even survives. The doctors said, expect to lose the baby. I keep hoping anyway.
A week in the hospital – extreme boredom like I’ve never experienced. I read Wuthering Heights, Jane Eyre (for the hundredth time), start Atlas Shrugged. The hospital gets about 20 channels on TV, most of them news or sports, yawn. Every time I turn on the TV, there are babies and pregnant women everywhere, so off goes the TV. I play Zelda, look forward to my daily shower (how pathetic is that), talk to the nurses, sleep. I never use my nurse call button, which makes them like me. Scott takes me outside in a wheelchair once a day – it’s the highlight of the whole day, even if the view is of the murder capital of the country. I tell myself, I want this awful boredom to last for the next three months, if it means my baby lives. I’ll willingly spend all summer in a cold, sterile hospital room. I’ll give up the trips to Key West and Virginia. I’ll give up hiking trips, and beach trips, and lazy days spent reading out on the lawn. I’ll give it all up, happily, if it means my baby survives. I’m so stupid, I keep hoping.
On Sunday night my chest starts to hurt. I think maybe it’s indigestion. Try to ignore it. Eventually, it’s pretty obvious it isn’t getting better, so I call the nurses, who give me some Maalox and tell me to wait it out. I wait for two hours, it’s even more painful than before. I call the nurses again, who call the doctor, who takes blood and tells me my liver function is up. This is a bad thing, especially when your platelets are low. They tell me I have to deliver the baby, and move me to L&D. I call Scott and tell him to come right away.
The doctors in L&D start me on a Magnesium drip, to prevent me from having a seizure. It’s also a natural muscle relaxer. I HATE medicines. I always get strong reactions, and weird side effects. The magnesium makes me feel like I can barely breathe. They put a catheter in my uterus and fill it with water, making a balloon inside me. They tug on the catheter every four hours to open the cervix a little more – this is mildly annoying, but not nearly so bad as the urethra catheter. Wow. You don’t even realize you can feel things inside your bladder until you have something poking around in there. I would say “ouch”, but the real pain is yet to come.
Before they get a chance to start me on drugs to induce labor, they do an ultrasound to check if baby is still breech. The technician looks around a while, says the baby must be positioned weird, she can’t find the heartbeat. She calls in the nurse, who tells me to hold on, she has to call a doctor. I already know what the doctor’s going to say when he gets there, but that same stupid part of my brain still continues to hope, right up until the doctor says “there’s no heartbeat, the baby’s passed”. I don’t go into denial, I don’t get angry, I don’t do anything except cry, and cry, and cry. My baby’s dead, that’s all I can think. I can’t cry for long though, the magnesium that makes it hard to breathe makes me feel like I’m suffocating if I cry. So I tell myself, you can cry as much as you want later, but right now is the time for courage, strength, and a lot of repression.
I decline a C-section – if they do one this early in the pregnancy, they have to do it the old-fashioned way, with a vertical cut instead of a horizontal cut (on the uterus; the skin cut is the same). This means I can never have a VBAC. Fuck that. There may be nothing but a dead baby to hope for at the end of this labor, but someday I might get another chance to give birth, and I don’t want to screw that up. I decline an epidural – I feel like I can stand the physical pain, and in fact it might give me some relief from all this pain in my heart that I can’t get out.
The doctors insert a pill in my cervix, which starts contractions. In the beginning, they’re not so bad, I can get through them with deep breathing, relaxation, and Fleet Foxes on my iPod. Four hours later, they insert a second pill, which really gets the contractions going. Now I feel it in my back, too, so I tell Scott to rub my back, hard, the way we were taught in the Bradley book. This helps more than I can say, but the contractions are coming less than a minute apart. I don’t realize it at the time, but Scott rubs my back with each contraction; he tells me later they last about a minute, and are 45 seconds apart, for 5 straight hours.
Four hours later, they insert another pill, and tell me to call them if I start to feel pressure. The nurse leaves, and immediately I feel pressure. It’s like a dam opened inside me, and I feel the baby shoot down like a pinball. At the same time, I feel the worst pain I’ve ever felt in my life, like a super-contraction that just won’t end, and I make noise for the first time. I scream. And scream and scream and scream. There are a bunch of people telling me to do things, but I can’t hear them over my own screams. Finally a doctor screams right in my face, which gets through the pain and I listen and do what he tells me, moves how he tells me, pushes when he tells me. I feel the baby coming, breech, which I knew beforehand but didn’t expect to feel. I feel every elbow, knee, in the wrong places, and it hurts worse than anything I’ve ever expected to experience.
With a final push that takes everything I have, the baby’s out. It’s a girl (we didn’t know beforehand). The doctors tell me it’s all over, the placenta came out right after the baby, there’s nothing to do but relax. I sleep.
Scott and I decline to see the baby’s body. I accept a card with baby’s footprints on it, and immediately regret it. They’re so tiny, but perfect at the same time. Ten little toes, my dead baby girl’s toes. It’s too sad.
24 hours pass – friends and family visit – I look and feel drugged, but I’m not in any physical pain. I still can’t allow myself to feel emotions – my lungs have enough to do to take in adequate oxygen just laying still, crying would kill me, I’m sure. I smile at people, who probably think I’m not completely wrecked inside, and maybe don’t understand that I can’t cry until they take me off this damn magnesium drip. 24 hours, then they take out the IV, the catheter, and I get to eat, drink, walk to the bathroom with help, and shower sitting down. Finally, alone in the shower. Finally I can cry. I sob as quietly as I can in the shower, so no one interrupts me. I want to cry forever, I feel like I will cry forever, how could I ever stop?
Of course, I do stop eventually, and I get my stuff ready and Scott takes me home. I leave the hospital, with an empty belly and no baby in my arms. It’s not fair.
The first day, I can barely walk up the stairs. I go one stair at a time, like an elderly lady. A week of bedrest and two days of muscle relaxers being pumped into my veins has left me weak, and with slightly atrophied muscles. I walk as much as I can, trying to build up muscle. I cry as much as I can, relieved to have an outlet for my pain. I talk to Scott, which helps immensely. We are closer than ever.
My breasts swell up, become rock hard as they fill with milk. I buy a size D bra; I was an A/B before I got pregnant. I cry with the pain of my swollen breasts, but I cry more when I try to relieve the pain by expressing some milk by hand. Milk that should be feeding my baby, being wasted in a wad a toilet paper, or dripping into my bra. I try cabbage leaves, drinking sage tea, and taking lukewarm showers. Within a week the swelling goes down, but I still leak milk. Useless milk, feeding no one.
Scott talks to me a lot, tells me the things I need to hear. I know how much he loves me, and that helps a little. We have to wait for the autopsy results to determine, if they can, why the baby died. If it’s likely we could have a healthy baby in the future, we’ll try again. If not, we’ll adopt. Either way, we know we will be parents someday, we just have to be patient. This is easy to say, not so easy to feel. I want a baby so bad it hurts. I want to be pregnant again, I want to feel baby kicks inside me, I want to rub my stomach and not feel hollow.
Time passes. Sometimes it’s easy to smile, act normal. I lose myself in books like always, I play video games, I cook and eat and laugh with Scott over silly things. I think to myself, it’s going to be ok. I’m not depressed, I’m just grieving, and grieving doesn’t last forever. Then I pass a pregnant woman, or a lady with a stroller, and all I can think is, it’s not fucking fair, why do you get a baby and I don’t? What did I do wrong? Why did my body not do a good enough job, and yours did? I’m so impatient for this hurting to be over, but I don’t want to lose it, either. It’s confusing.
I have a doctor appointment, to get checked to make sure everything’s ok physically. The waiting room of course is filled with pregnant women, newborn babies, and I’m especially happy I remembered my sunglasses. I put them on, and turn my face in the direction of my book, pretending to read. My oversize sunglasses catch the tears so no one sees them. My name is called, and when I’m in the exam room I can wipe them away.
The nurses and doctor are “very sorry for my loss”. Yeah, me too. I have to go through the whole scenario, tell them exactly what happened. Somehow I get through the story with only a few sobs. Physically, I get checked and everything’s fine. I get a prescription for birth control, which will help get my body back in shape quicker. Scott and I have a plan to buy a house before we try again, or adopt, or whatever. Rationally, I’m sure this is the right course of action. Emotionally, I want to burn the birth control and get pregnant as soon as possible.
I need to get a job. I’m looking everywhere I can, freelance, construction, anything. In the meantime, I’m redesigning my father-in-law’s house for free, just to stay in the game, and have something to put in my portfolio. All I can think is, the sooner I get a job, the more money we can save, the sooner we can buy a house, the sooner I can get pregnant again. It’s all the motivation I need to find a job. I’m working for a baby that isn’t even close to existing yet. My whole life revolves around this someday-baby.
I know I’m not a horrible person, but there is a huge part of me that regrets thinking the way I did in the hospital. Before the baby died, and the doctors were discussing what would happen if the baby survived the delivery, Scott and I agreed that we would not allow any intervention above-and-beyond what was traditionally done. We didn’t want a severely handicapped baby. Not only would it not have been fair to us, being such active people, it wouldn’t have been fair to the baby. Scott goes to work every day with children with severe handicaps, and sees the kinds of lives they live, which aren’t much to speak of. And they know it, these kids. They know they’re not “normal”, and that sucks. Of course, having ultimately lost the baby, I feel wretched for even thinking I wouldn’t want a baby, any baby, no matter the condition. I wish I had been given the choice to cut off my own hand to save my daughter's life; I'd be without a hand, but I'd be holding my baby girl.