I have wanted to be a mommy for as long as I can remember. It’s packed away somewhere (or else I would have taken a picture to include here), but I have a fill-in-the-blank worksheet from when I was in second grade to attest to this. On the top of the worksheet was written, “When I grow up, I want to be…” and in the blank space, I wrote “a mommy.” And I think I said I wanted to have like 12 kids or something. (Ba ha ha ha ha ha. Did you just spit out your coffee?)
My husband and I have known each other since middle school (hmmm, maybe I should write a post about that, too?), so he was well aware of my interest in having kids. And luckily for me, he wanted to be a daddy as much as I wanted to be a mommy. So 4 years after we got married, we decided to start trying.
I come from a very fertile family, plus if you’ve ever seen me in real life, you know I have the hips to birth some babies. So I was surprised when I still wasn’t pregnant after 3 months of trying. After 6 months I got worried. And after 9 months I was downright scared. My dreams of becoming a mommy seemed to be circling the drain before my very eyes.
I’ll save our fertility story for another time (yes, another post idea!) but in a nutshell, after nearly 3 more months of testing, and testing, and more testing–with nothing seemingly abnormal with either myself or my husband–and then finally a teeny bit of medical intervention, I got pregnant.
I will never forget the morning I found out. It was about a week before I was due to get my period, and figured I’d start the every-other-day testing until my period showed up. Because I had been doing these tests every month for about the past year, and because every single time they came back negative, I was expecting more of the same. So I took the test and set it aside while I hopped in the shower to get ready for work.
I had actually nearly forgotten about it until I was heading out the door. So when I grabbed it and saw the plus sign on it, I nearly keeled over right on the spot. I couldn’t stop staring at the test. It was probably a good 10 or 15 minutes before I regained a semblance of composure and was able to call my husband. Before he could even finish saying “hey” after answering the phone, I whispered, “I think I’m pregnant,” hands shaking as I tried to keep the phone from dropping to the floor.
“What do you mean you think you’re pregnant,” he asked? “Did you get a positive test?” I could tell he was nervous, too. “Yes, but I’m not sure I trust it.” And I didn’t. “Well, call your doctor and call me back.” So I did. I went right in and had a blood test. And then on the way to work I bought three more tests. All different kinds. And I took them all. And they all came back positive. But I still wasn’t convinced until my doctor called to say it was confirmed. “Hallelujah!” To say my husband and I were excited would be an understatement.
Aside from a few small things, my pregnancy was rather uneventful. I never had morning sickness, and I seemed to be following along the 8,001 pregnancy books I was reading to a T.
And then around 28 weeks, I had some weird stuff going on down below. I went to my OB to get checked out, and she assured me everything seemed fine. I wasn’t dilated or effaced. The only thing she said was that I was carrying very low.
Fast forward to a week later. My parents were in town for the weekend to celebrate my birthday. We decided to do a little shopping and then go out to dinner. But when we got to the mall, I wasn’t feeling that great. My back was suddenly killing me and I didn’t feel like walking around. So I sat on a bench and sent everyone on their merry way. Once shopping was done, we went out to dinner. Even though I couldn’t fit too much in my stomach those days, I ate a ton. And then I felt even worse because my back was still hurting and I was over-full.
When we got home, I still wasn’t feeling great but figured all I needed to do was go to bed to rest my back and get some sleep. And let the baby feast on the meal I had just inhaled. But of course, I couldn’t sleep. I kept having this nagging stomach tightening. It finally got to the point where it was 2 am and I still couldn’t fall asleep. Finally, I called into the answering service for my doctor’s office and they said I should head into the hospital to get checked out. Thinking it’d be a quick trip in and then back home, I let my husband sleep and instead woke up mom to have her take me.
When we got to the hospital, they hooked me up to all the monitors and then did an exam. “Do your contractions hurt?” asked the resident. Contractions? What contractions? “Well, Mrs. Lawrence, you are 2-3 centimeters dilated, so we are going to admit you to try and stop your labor.” My labor? I started panicking. “How can I be in labor? I have 11 more weeks to go!” I said.
My mom called my husband, and he and my dad were at the hospital in record time. I was moved to another room and told I’d be confined to the bed for at least the next 36 hours while they put me on magnesium to try and stop my labor. Oh god, oh god, oh god.
Those next 36 hours were hellacious. The magnesium made me sick, I was catheterized (ok, that was kinda cool not having to get up to go to the bathroom), and I was so uncomfortable. I was already pretty huge with baby belly, even being 11 weeks away from my due date, and being confined to a bed with only one or two positions to move to brought me to tears. Not to mention all of the various testing I underwent–blood tests, urine tests, ultrasounds, an amniocentesis–to try to figure out why I was in labor so early and how mature the baby’s lungs were.
Plus, I was scared. Scared for the little baby that I was growing. Although apparently not doing such a great job at that since the baby was trying to make a great escape. But my fears were put at ease some when we met with the neonatologists. Yes, our baby was going to have some struggles, but if he or she decided to join us at 29 weeks, we were far enough along that the doctors were very reassuring about our outcomes. Nevertheless, they prepped us on things to expect: incubators, feeding tubes, heart monitors, breathing monitors…it was all very overwhelming. Thankfully, my husband and parents and mother-in-law were constantly at my side helping me through it all.
At the end of my 36 hours on magnesium, the doctors determined I could come off. My contractions had stopped and I hadn’t dilated any further. Things were looking on the up and up. They were even talking about letting me go home, which was great, because it was my birthday. And then my water broke.
At this point, after taking everything into account, the doctors determined we should move ahead with delivery instead of trying to hold it off any more. With all of my exams, and now with my water broken, the chance of an infection was great, so we wanted to get the baby out as soon as possible. So, I was started on pitocin, and the waiting game began. It was about 8 o’clock at night, so the doctors guesstimated we’d be ready to go the next morning.
Belle had other plans. 15 minutes into my pitocin, my contractions were so bad that they had to cut it down some. 15 minutes after that, I asked for my epidural. And then 15 minutes after that, I felt really funny. I had my mom get the nurse, and when I described what I was feeling, she looked skeptical but checked me out. Sure enough, I was completely dilated. Within 45 minutes I went from 3 cm to 10 cm. They couldn’t believe it.
And then it was like someone switched on the fast forward button. The nurses were so worried I was going to deliver right then and there that they started wheeling me out of the room before I was disconnected from my IV and monitors. I was told I’d have to deliver in the ER in case there were any complications. So my husband was rushed into his scrubs, and after I was successfully disconnected from everything we headed for the ER. And we were met by a swarm of nurses and doctors–OBs, neonatologists, pediatricians.
Things got real very fast. Not an hour ago I was sitting in my bed wondering when this baby would come out, and now I was being told to push. It’s sort of a blur to me, actually. I remember pushing, and I remember one of the pediatricians coming up to me to tell me that I wouldn’t get to see my baby right away–they needed to take him or her immediately to do an exam and determine what needed to happen. My husband wouldn’t get to cut the umbilical cord, and I wouldn’t get that moment every mom dreams of of having their newborn placed on their chest. We were sad, but we understood.
Then after 15 minutes of pushing, the baby was out. “It’s a girl!” my doctor said as she passed her over to the pediatrician. I didn’t even see her face before she was rushed into the next room. But I did hear her crying–she had a strong cry, a fierce cry–and from that moment, I just knew in my heart things were going to be alright. I sent my husband to the next room to be with our baby. Our daughter. And then I just cried. Tears of joy. And tears of relief.
A few minutes later, my husband was back at my side along with one of the pediatricians. She looked me right in the eyes and said, “Mrs. Lawrence. Your baby is doing beautifully. She’s been breathing on her own this whole time and looks amazingly healthy.” Then she put the tiniest baby I had ever seen in my arms. “We need to get her to the NICU, but I wanted you to see her and hold her before we go.”
I couldn’t believe this tiny little baby was mine. All 3 1/2 pounds, 17 inches of her. Mine. And the fact that she was doing better than anyone could have ever imagined. My husband and I were just in awe. Here she was. Our Belle. We couldn’t have been happier.
We got to hold her for a few minutes before they finally had to take her to the NICU. I didn’t want to let her go, but I knew I had to. After Belle was gone, my husband bent down and whispered, “Happy birthday, hun. I am so very proud of you.” Oh my gosh. It was still my birthday. Our birthday! I got to share a birthday with our daughter. And there were more tears.
I wanted so desperately to go to the NICU as soon as I was moved out of the recovery room, but it was past midnight at that point, and the weight of the past 3 days finally hit me. I hadn’t eaten anything or slept much, and I literally passed out. Three times. So we all agreed that I should stay in bed through the night to get some much needed rest and build up my energy. My husband stayed in the NICU while I slept.
The minute I woke up I begged to go see my daughter. The nurses put me in a wheelchair and my husband wheeled me down to the NICU. I wasn’t prepared for it. Our daughter, who only the night before was wrapped up in just a blanket and resting sweetly in my arms, was now in an incubator with tubes coming out from everywhere. She had an IV in her belly button, a feeding tube in her mouth, and monitors attached all over. Seeing her like that was so overwhelming. My heart ached for her.
The good news, they said, was that she was still breathing on her own and never had to go on oxygen. She seemed to be doing amazing given how early she was, and the doctors and nurses were nothing but reassuring about her prognosis.
Belle spent 5 weeks in the NICU. During that time, my husband and I became experts as NICU parents. We knew what the terms apnea and bradycardia meant, our hands were so dry from all of the washing and sanitizer we had to use, and we became pros at changing Belle’s diaper and getting her dressed while making sure all of her tubes and monitor leads stayed in place. We graduated from only being able to touch her through the holes in her incubator to knowing how to disconnect her from everything, pick her up, and hold and feed her all on our own.
And during those 5 weeks, Belle was learning a lot, too. She quickly moved from her incubator to a regular bed, she was taken off her feeding tube, and she gained about 2 pounds. Everyone kept saying just how amazed that were at her progress. We did have a few setbacks, like her small brain bleed and some apnea issues, but all in all, Belle just continued to thrive.
The day finally came when the doctors told us they thought she was ready to come home. We were ecstatic, but surprised and nervous. She was still so tiny (only about 5 1/2 pounds). And she was still 6 weeks away from her due date! (This is fairly unusual, as preemies typically stay in the hospital until at least their due date.) We rushed around like crazy to get the house clean and ready for her arrival (after all, her room was still a guest bedroom when she was born).
And then the day arrived when we were able to take Belle home . . . we were now responsible for this little life. Saying goodbye to everyone at the hospital was tough, but we were ready. Ready to be in our own home. A new family now.
The transition from the hospital to home wasn’t seemless, but we took it one day at a time. Belle took everything in stride, and I swear, she never looked back. She continued to thrive and grow–catching up in size by 6 months, and catching up developmentally by 15 months.
Looking at her now, 5 years later, you’d never know about her completely unexpected beginning. And even though we tell her all the time about her birth and early arrival, I don’t think she’ll ever know just how truly miraculous she is and just how blessed we are to call her ours.