Updated: Jan 4
I don’t usually talk about my pregnancy, birthing story, or the first two years of my son’s life. I stick to more upbeat topics.
I was approaching six months into my pregnancy. On a routine checkup, the midwives noticed my stomach wasn’t protruding at the rate it should be. I wasn’t gaining weight, and neither was my baby. At first, I didn’t worry, because they told me there was nothing to worry about. However, they put me on weekly check-ups to monitor the situation. Two weeks later, they were beginning to worry, because the lack of growth had continued and was becoming exponentially alarming. They told me I needed to get bi-weekly ultrasounds to directly monitor the baby’s growth and vital signs. I was further reassured that all was well, and I dutifully continued to work full-time, despite there being increasing pain and discomfort.
At six and a half months along, I finished with my (at this point, routine) ultrasound check up, and headed to work. I’d barely left the hospital when I received an emergency call. They were putting me on a plane immediately to send me to a specialist in Anchorage. My baby’s life depended on it. That was the end of any chance for an idyllic, worry-free pregnancy.
I flew out of Homer on the next commercial flight to Anchorage, and went straight to the front of the line at the specialist’s office. She told me there was indeed something very wrong that was keeping my baby from developing at a normal rate, and put me on bed rest for the remainder of my pregnancy. I must try to keep my child alive and growing inside of my belly for another month to ensure he would survive birth, she explained. She would induce me in another month, (at 8 months gestation) IF he was still alive… because that would be the point where his viability odds would be increased in the outside world vs staying in my belly. She made sure I understood she’d see me in one month IF he was still viable. She sent me home, in shock and disbelief, to process everything from my bed.
I had to quit my job immediately that afternoon. Timing being what it was, my baby shower was scheduled for that weekend. I didn’t know what to tell anyone. My baby might not make it? Was I understanding that correctly? I was afraid to say anything. No one beyond my closest circle knew my anguished news. At the shower, I tried to fake happiness, but really I just wanted to cry. I was the only one who wasn’t celebrating, and it felt awful to hold the gifts and not know if my son would ever use them.
It only took a week, and one more concerning ultrasound appointment for the midwives to stick me back on a plane to Anchorage, where the specialist determined I must spend the remainder of my pregnancy admitted to Providence Children’s Hospital’s Maternity Ward, on continuous monitoring. I was not allowed to walk. I had to ask permission to use the bathroom, and they would wheel me the equivalent of 15 steps in a wheelchair. They fed me double meals, and explained how every calorie possible must go to my baby. I had lost my autonomy completely, and slowly my self-respect faded away. I felt like a prisoner. Like I was seen as nothing more than incubator for my son. Of course, I understood the seriousness, and wanted the best for my baby, so I put my own needs on the back burner and laid there motionless for the month, until the morning they induced me.
My son didn’t want to come out. He instinctively knew it was too early to be birthed, and refused to budge. I was in labor for 3 ½ days. Yes, 3 ½ days. They were an hour from taking me to the table for a C-section, when he finally decided to cooperate. It’s all a horrible blur. From 6 am Tuesday morning until Friday night at 9:52 pm, when he made his entrance. Days of agony and detachment from my body. No food allowed. No sleep, though I passed out more than once due to unbearable pain. I pulled every single muscle, and wore my body out completely, even muscles I’d had no idea I had. It took two weeks post-birth for me to be able to walk without pain. I can’t even begin to describe the discomfort using the bathroom. I would scream in agony for the first several days, after which I could keep the scream muffled, despite the pain persisting for weeks. You never really get rid of that muscle memory.
No part of this was natural. It was invasive torture, but I was told it was necessary to keep my son alive. He was born at 4lbs 13 oz (it had all been worth it- he had doubled in size in the final weeks at Providence). But by the following day, he had dropped to 4lbs 4 oz and was beginning to show signs of destabilization. They put him on a strict feeding schedule, and though I’d not slept in days, I found a new level of superwoman within me as I found the energy to care for my son, above all else.
It took five days to stabilize him to a point where they let me take him home. They put him on a high calorie supplement, to help him gain weight, and every day became structured around feeding and weighing him. He was tiny, I could hold him in one hand, and yet he required 2000 calories a day MINIMUM to keep him from wasting away.
He was airlifted back to Providence when he was six weeks old, due to further complications. Blood transfusions, ICU stays, living in and out of hospitals for the first two years. I was repeatedly told it was a miracle he was still alive. Me sacrificing everything I had to help my son. I did nothing for three straight years except give my baby anything and everything he needed to keep him alive.
It took three or four years for him to stabilize enough that the doctors decided he might actually live after all. Slowly, people started to come back around…after the worst of it was over. After he was stabilized. After I could hide the trauma enough to pretend all was okay. Then people began to talk to me again. After it became apparent he was finally healthy, my family began to welcome us… like I could just forget the years of silence?
I lost everything I used to call my life. I lost my friends. I even lost my family. It turns out there are only a few people in the world who can handle being around a mother faced with the grief of a dying child. But, I gained a whole new perspective, a whole new world, and a fiercely unshakable group of people from unexpected backgrounds who somehow understood where I was broken and believed in me.
Nobody talks about these aspects. The sacrifices we make as mothers, to bring another life into the world. We are chosen as their incubators, and we must do what is required of us. We have no choice to opt out.
We are taught to believe the birth of a child should be one of the most joyous points in our lives. We put it on a pedestal and challenge every woman to attain the pinnacle of perfection, lest she be judged as somehow inadequate, or a complete failure as a mother. I feel that societal shame when I say out loud, it was one of the most traumatic horrible chapters of my life.
And, how can I honor my own trauma, yet ALSO honor my son and explain to him that his birth was indeed the most beautiful, love-filling, expansive, life-changing, best thing that ever happened to me? The simultaneous co-existing of the deep trauma, and it being forever deeply entangled with exquisite perfection… Sometimes it’s too hard to decipher. So I just let it be.