As I sit typing this, you are lying next to me having only just drifted off to sleep after an afternoon of feeding, changing, and fussing. Yes, there was some alert tummy time mixed in, but for the most part, you have been not much more than a tiny, howling creature for the better part of the afternoon. Despite my sleep deprived haze, I can’t help but look at you in absolute awe and love as I pick you up to feed or change you yet again. The dirty diapers, Jackson. I never would have imagined.
For such a long time, I was so sad. Sad because before there was you, there were two other babies who were not meant to be. For long hours and long days, I sat with the knowledge that for some reason my body was supremely broken, that I was less than the woman I was supposed to be. And then, two days before Christmas, I called your father because something just didn’t feel right. I’d felt that way before, and as I sat and waited for your father to come home, the exhilaration that I’d felt the first and then the second time I’d sat quietly waiting was replaced with dread. I couldn’t go through another loss, knew that if it were to happen again, that my grip on sanity would come slowly unfurled.
But then the wait was over, and your father and I looked in disbelief at the starkest second pink line we had seen yet. And I knew then that you were already telling me how strong you were, that you were already filling the hole that I’d carried with me for the year prior. And you ARE strong, Jackson. I know it when I watch you lift your head despite the rules that say you shouldn’t be able to sustain such an activity yet. I know it when you kick and punch with little arms as I try to change your diaper. I know it when you fight to get your arms beneath you and push up when on your tummy. Your father will tell you that you get your stubbornness from me, but I can tell you that you got the best of both of us, and I see it everyday as you fight to make yourself known.
And you are already forging ahead, doing things ahead of time and on your own schedule. Tonight, you are still technically five days away from what would have been your due date, but you are here and already two weeks old.
It was a routine 36 week checkup, and for the first time since your ultrasound, your father was able to go with me. I’d just gone back to work, was preparing for the first two weeks of school before a planned maternity leave, and I’d driven to the appointment from the school, rushed even, because I was running late (or as your father would put it, late to be early). All was normal as the nurse weighed me and slapped the blood pressure cuff on my arm, and I waited as the machine did its work. But the cuff didn’t release as soon as it had in the past, and it grew tighter and tighter before finally releasing. The tech frowned at the number. “Let’s try the other arm,” she said and switched the cuff. Before she did, I peeked at the reading. 166/80. I was confused. I’d always had stellar blood pressure. I focused on taking some deep breaths, forced myself to calm down, but when the machine released once more, the number had changed, but not for the better. 168/82.
“My blood pressure is high,” I told your father as we sat in the waiting room before seeing the midwife. I tried not to worry about it, tried to dismiss it as a fluke, a one time event that could be regulated by taking a few more deep breaths, maybe by going home and putting my feet up while guzzling water.
“I want to send you down to triage to monitor your pressure,” the midwife said after checking your heartbeat. “If it stays high, there’s a good possibility you’ll be having this baby very soon. And I don’t want to scare you, but it may even be as early as tonight.”
Your father and I looked at each other. Nothing was ready. We weren’t ready. There was no car seat installed yet, your nursery was almost but not quite finished, and there were an assortment of baby items left to purchase. Mentally, we weren’t prepared for you to be here just quite yet. I thought back to the faculty luncheon just the day prior where I had joked with colleagues that I wouldn’t mind if you came just a wee bit early. Now, facing the distinct possibility that you were going to make an early entrance, I was terrified. I’d had nine months to wrap my mind around the idea of being someone’s mother, but somehow I’d accepted that you would surely go past your due date and that I had three or four more weeks to prepare myself. Already you were telling us that when it came to your place in the world, we would need to stay on our toes, poised and ready for whatever curve ball you were going to hurl at us.
I’d asked the midwife if she could determine your position, and as she pressed against the hard round mound that for weeks I’d thought was your bum, she admitted, “I can’t tell if that’s his bottom or his head. Let’s get an ultrasound before you head down to triage.”
“This baby is breech,” the ultrasound tech said, and the daily struggle I’d been having concerning epidurals and natural childbirth were whisked away in the face of a c-section. Your father held my hand while I cried. This was not what I’d wanted. This was not the dream I’d had about your birth. How could I possibly want my child snatched from my body, removed three weeks before it was even time? How could I justify the interventions so frowned upon in the birthing community?
In triage, the nurses hooked me up to a blood pressure cuff, a heart monitor, and started an IV hep lock that would remain in my hand for the next week and a half. And I laid on that uncomfortable bed listening to your heart beat as the blood pressure cuff turned my arm purple, my fingers numb and tingling. I timed my breathing to your heart, desperately counted those beats between my breaths as the nurses flurried around me drawing vials of blood and my blood pressure climbed.
Thus began a week of gray area. My liver counts were just high enough to be concerned but not high enough to merit delivering you that night. My blood pressure was high but was slowly coming down. I was checked into the hospital for the weekend, diagnosed with pregnancy induced hypertension and pre-eclampsia.
Over the weekend, your father and I settled into that gray area as test after test came back with results that were not terrible but not ideal. “We aren’t quite sure what we want to do yet,” the doctors told us, and your father and I daydreamed about going home, getting out of that hospital with its terrible, lukewarm cafeteria cuisine and uncomfortable beds.
But there you were with your own plans, and as the doctors came in that Sunday and told us that I would remain in the hospital for the week to be delivered that Thursday, I knew that despite my fear and sadness over the best laid plans that often go awry, I was ready to meet you. And from deep within me, you were already telling me you were ready to meet me, too.
So the waiting began and your father scrambled to finish last minute things here at our home while I watched far too much Food Network and tried not to pass the time by peeling paint off of the walls. Bed rest, in theory, sounds lovely until it is imposed upon you, and you are the subject of scowls and tsking when you venture to do something as daring as go to the restroom.
On Wednesday night, your father satisfied a final request and brought me guacamole before I was no longer allowed to eat or drink. As midnight approached, we sat together quietly. He rubbed my back, and you kicked and punched vigorously as if to let us know that you were ready, that you were strong enough, that we were strong enough.
The next morning didn’t afford time to think as doctors and nurses scurried in and out with various bits of information and directives. My surgery was scheduled for noon, and as the hour approached, my anxiety and fear and excitement threatened to drown me. I was in overload and asked your father to see our well-meaning visitors out.
And then the nurses were wheeling me down the hallway to the OR, and your father waited in the hallway while the anesthesiologist prepped me for a spinal block. I was terrified and hated that your dad couldn’t be there with me, hated that as they wheeled me in a terrible Rhianna song was playing over the speakers, hated that the nurse I held on to as the needle entered my spine had on far too much mascara, hated that cold, antiseptic smell of the room.
Your father came in, and the doctor tried his best to distract me as the nurses put up the curtain. And then everything began, a blurred, rushed ticking of seconds as I squeezed your father’s hand, and the pressure as the doctor took you from me, the sound of your first cries echoing throughout that cold room, and my heart hurting with the need to touch you, to feel your skin against mine.
And then you were there. My hands trembling from the magnesium coursing through my blood stream as I touched your tiny hands, your hair, and you reached back for me already acknowledging that even though this wasn’t what I wanted, that you were there, and you were everything that I needed.
The first 24 hours are a medication-induced haze. The magnesium they’d given me left me incoherent, a babbling, uncontrolled imitation of myself, and I hated that in those first few hours I was less than myself, but despite the obstacles placed before us, you thrived.
And now, as the scar on my body is healing, the scar on my heart is gone. One day, you’ll read this and think I’m weird and sappy and be embarrassed of your crazy mother, but right now, as you sleep, I know that you gave me strength when I most needed it.
I love you forever,