Pregnancy & Birth
Personal Stories of Labor and Birth
My Preemie Baby
When I was just about 2 months away from my due date with my first child my husband lost his job. Since he was the primary breadwinner and my job's continuation was anything from certain - I worked on a TV pilot at the time - I stressed. Turns out that is a bad thing to do while you are pregnant. Two weeks later, in the middle of the night, my water broke. At first I was just excited. The idea that my baby was 'early' didn't even come to me until later. I was admitted to the hospital and told not to get out of bed or sit up for anything. That was early Saturday morning. My baby shower was to be later that day! Needless to say I missed it but the guests made regular calls to ask about me and see if the baby had been born yet.
Because my labor was early the doctor decided that, as long as he was in no distress, they would allow the baby to stay inutero, my labor to progress as naturally as possible. Two days later they found meconium in my amniotic fluid and decided to induce labor.
Labor is painful but there is perhaps nothing more painful, that I have experienced anyway, than contractions on Pitocin. I honestly did not recognize before they induced labor that the contractions would have been so awful I couldn't stand them without an epidural - if they had been natural contractions I might well have not needed an epidural at all - but I was surely glad for them when after about 4 hours of Pitocin I leaned over to my hard of hearing husband, sweat dripping in my eyes, dry mouth and throat and whispered "Drugs, drugs, drugs". It was all I could manage to say.
My son was born just short of 48 hours after my water broke. The NICU (Neonatal Intensive Care Unit) nurses were there ready to take him away the moment my body relinquished him to the world. I have a heartbreaking picture of the first time I laid eyes on my baby; my arms outstretched and the nurse leaning him momentarily in my direction. She whisked him away to the NICU seconds later.
At 4 in the morning I was allowed to sit up for the first time in two days. I'd lost a lot of blood, (an early baby has a larger placenta - it hasn't had time to shrink so the wound where it leaves the wall of the uterus is large) I was weak and despondent. After all that work I was not even allowed to hold my baby. But as exhausted as I felt I leapt at the chance when the nurse asked if we would like to go see him in the NICU.
Our son was born without the ability to breathe on his own, a common problem in preemies, I gather. He lacked a certain component in his lungs that prevented them from sticking together during inhale of air. Within just a few days his lung function was normal and we were relieved. But it was another long 6 days before we were to take him home.
In the end it seemed we were lucky. A friend had a baby just a few months later, also premature, just one day less than my own son's 35 weeks 6 days birth term and he stayed in the NICU for 3 weeks. When I heard that I truly understood why my doctor had insisted on keeping me in bed; eking out even a few more hours inutero meant fewer days in the hospital.
At our 2 week checkup - baby and I shared a doctor - I asked my doctor what would have happened if there had been no medical care, say if I were giving birth 50 or 60 years earlier. He said we both, most certainly, would have died. I grew up about as health food-eating, hippie chick as they come and was bent on 'natural' childbirth. But I am grateful that medical science continues to progress and was able to give my son a chance at a life and me one to continue mine. I think we forget how far we have come, how perilous childbirth used to be.
I learned a lot during that time. I think the most important thing was that you must not question the certainty of the medical professionals you are working with and yet you must ask questions. You must know what is going on with your care, with your child's and why things are happening.
My son stayed in the NICU for a total of 8 days. Most of that time spent learning how to eat. At a certain point I realized that he was not finishing a bottle in the half hour window allowed by the nurses because that is just the way he eats! (He still eats a little, looks out the window, eats a little more, leisurely at a meal.) I tried to tell them this in a desperate attempt to allow them to 'let him out' (because frankly there is no one more desperate than a mother with a child in the NICU). But my mistake was not in telling them what I discovered to be true, but in not asking them enough questions, in not insisting that I speak also to the doctor who was overseeing all the shifts of nurses and the total care of my son.
I learned during that time to be a participant in my care and my children's care. Easy to say, not so easy to do. We want to differ to the medical professionals because otherwise why did they go through all that school! And why are we paying them so much! But it can be done. During the birth of my second child my labor slowed down and my doctor wanted to induce right away. I almost didn't say anything but something in me thought, "slow down". I asked to be allowed to labor normally without Pitocin for as long as possible. He agreed. But when he thought it was time to take some action and suggested breaking my waters, I agreed. We became partners in the decision making about the birth instead of him the perpetrator and me the victim. This is how it should be. Afterwards, we both felt confident in the decisions that were made and the outcome was a healthy baby girl. This is, after all, the entire end all and be all of the process. A healthy baby. But a healthy baby with an empowered and informed mother is a lucky baby indeed.
written by a 40-year-old woman
Last revised: January 2007
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