How do you write about the most life-changing experience you've ever had? The single most terrifying week of your life...but also, in a strange way, the most wonderful? I already know that I will not be able to adequately put into words all of my feelings over the last ten days, so I'm just going to start with the facts. A week ago today, on June 24th, at 8:43am, our son was born! And while that sentence fills me with joy, the way it happened was the scariest and hardest thing I've ever been through. You see, his due date wasn't until August 7th, almost seven weeks away. We went in for a routine doctor's appointment on Monday the 20th, and were told that my blood pressure was high (141/107). I had also been experiencing some swelling in my feet, hands, and face, but had written it off since swelling seemed like a pretty normal third trimester complaint and I had such a normal pregnancy up to that point. So when my doctor told us she wanted to send me to the hospital for monitoring, I figured it was just a precaution and we'd be on our way soon. I even texted my work and told them I wouldn't make it for our team lunch, but I'd be in later that afternoon. I peed in a cup, had my blood drawn, and was hooked up to a few machines that monitored me and the baby, as well as a blood pressure cuff that went off every 10 minutes. No big deal, I thought.
The day before our doctor's appointment at 33 weeks. Little did we know what was coming!
Boy, was I wrong. Later that afternoon, the doctor came in and told me that I had four times the normal amount of protein in my urine, and my kidney function was well below normal. In addition, my blood pressure had remained high throughout the monitoring. I had preeclampsia, a condition that affects about 5% of pregnant women and basically means your organs start to fail. It's really serious (leading to death if untreated), and the only cure is delivering your baby. However, there's a balancing act because at 33 weeks, babies still have a lot of developing to do so it's best if they can stay in you as long as possible. Our doctor spoke with us and we set a goal of getting me to 37 weeks, which is considered the beginning of "full-term." I would be closely monitored up until then, and might need to be in the hospital on bed rest all the way up until delivery. She also warned us that 37 weeks was the best case scenario, and if at any time my preeclampsia started worsening into dangerous territory, I might have to deliver our baby sooner. In the meantime, I got steroid shots to help the baby's lungs mature as quickly as possible, just in case.
I was still really optimistic that we would make it to 37 weeks, and figured that while the next month would pass by slowly, a little bed rest never hurt anyone. I started texting my sister-in-law about if we should move the date of my baby shower, emailing partners to cancel blog posts I had planned over the next month, and talking to work about transitioning my stuff to other people a little earlier than we'd expected. I also started thinking about how we were going to set up the nursery with me in the hospital and how many things we still had to get ready before the baby came, etc. Logistics stuff.
Meanwhile, my preeclampsia got worse. A 24-hour pee collection showed I had 6x the normal amount of protein in my urine, my kidney function dropped by half, and my liver function also started worsening. My blood pressure was also still fairly high, even after they started me on two different medications. My doctor told us the new plan was to get me to 34 weeks. Our baby would definitely be born prematurely, but his chances of survival at 33-34 weeks were almost the same as a full-term baby--he would just need some help to grow, mature, and develop at the beginning. We met the neonatologist, who worked in the hospital's newborn nursery, and she helped to answer a lot of our questions. She was really reassuring, but I still started freaking out and googling babies born at 33-34 weeks.
Then on Thursday, my symptoms took a turn for the worse (again) and the doctors decided it was time to induce labor. I was terrified, but also part of me was ready to get this part over with and meet our baby. They stuck some pills up my cervix to start softening it (ow) and then they broke my water (OW). I gripped Ben's hand so hard that I drew blood...let's just say it was not a fun experience. They got an IV in me (after calling a special IV nurse since my arms were so swollen at this point that they were having trouble finding my veins), and started me on magnesium and pitocin. I started having contractions (ow ow ow) and my labor was progressing slowly but surely. I got an epidural, and things started to feel a little better on my end. However, the baby was not tolerating the stress of labor very well, so they decided to move me to the operating room. I could still deliver vaginally there, as long as the baby was doing ok, but they'd be ready in case they needed to do a c-section. As the doctor was explaining this to us, the baby's signs took a dive for the worse and she decided that actually, they would definitely need to do a c-section--right then.
I was wheeled down the hall in a rush, and Ben was told that he could not be in the operating room after all. Once they got me in there, the anesthesiologist put me under general anesthesia (so I was totally out of it). I was so scared at this point, and Ben was too--everything had progressed so quickly.
The next thing I knew, I was being woken up and was told that our son had been born and was doing well. I was so happy, but I also felt really sad that we didn't get to have the "normal" birth experience that I had expected. I never got to push him out, never got to hold him to my chest after he was born, and neither Ben or I got to see him come into the world. I also heard that because I was on magnesium (which was necessary to prevent me from going into seizure), he came out groggy and limp instead of kicking and crying, like I had always imagined. And I felt sad that he was thrust into the world so soon, when he should have had another month and a half to develop inside me. He was born so small--3 lb 5 oz, and 16.5 inches long.
But all things considered, he was healthy! Praise the Lord. He could breathe on his own (a big concern for his age), and was being taken care of in our hospital's newborn nursery (which could handle babies born at 32 weeks and older). I got to see him that same day and even though I was in tons of pain from surgery and miserably nauseous and groggy from the magnesium, it was the happiest moment. Our baby was here! And he was the cutest, more perfect baby ever. We named him Ian Montgomery Allen.
Alas, Ian's birth saga was not over. Although he could still breathe on his own, he started struggling with it, so they decided to transfer him to the NICU at another hospital in Seattle, which has the facilities for much more intensive care of preemies. This was really sad for me because I still hadn't been able to hold him, and my insurance wouldn't cover transferring me...so I had to finish recovering at my hospital while Ian was moved. Because of my preeclampsia, I had to stay at the hospital a few extra days, where I was stuck with about a billion needles, before I was cleared for discharge. Meanwhile, Ben went back and forth being the two hospitals, meeting Ian's team over there, taking pictures of him, helping me learn how to pump milk and delivering it, and just generally keeping our families updated and taking care of everyone. He is my hero--seriously, I was so proud of Ben for how well he stepped into the role of dad under the most stressful of circumstances.
I love this picture of Ian looking at Ben! Some people have said he looks like me, but I feel like he is totally a mini-version of Ben.
On Monday (exactly one week after we'd originally come to the hospital), I was discharged. It's crazy how much happened in one week--I felt like a different person, like I was walking around in a daze. We spent the first two nights after that in the "parent suites" at Ian's hospital, so we could spend the maximum amount of time with him. I got to hold him skin on skin for the first time which was sooo nice (I cried buckets, of course), and we learned how to change his diapers (the tiniest diapers ever!). He was on a CPAP (continuous pressure to make it easier for him to breathe), and had a PICC line in his ankle for IV nutrients. He also had a feeding tube in his mouth, other wires hooked up to monitor him, and was under a special phototherapy light to get rid of jaundice. It was hard to see him connected to so many things, but I knew he was getting the care he needs. My sweet baby!
Now, one week from his birth date, Ian is doing really well. He no longer needs his CPAP, he's off the phototherapy lights, and he's gaining weight and eating more every day. I'm so proud of our strong and amazing little boy, and cannot wait until he's ready to come home. We've been told that he may need to stay at he hospital until his due date (August 7th--over a month from now), but I'm hoping that he'll be ready a little sooner!
It feels strange to share these photos with the world because everything still feels so raw and intimate and new...but I wanted you guys to meet Ian! His birth story isn't what I had imagined when we first found out we were pregnant, but I'm so grateful for how everything turned out. It could have been so much worse--I mean really, both of us could have died if we lived in a different time or place, or if we hadn't caught my preeclampsia when we did. It's scary to think.
As for now, it's a little sad to be home without our baby boy...but we're planning to visit him at the hospital as much as possible over the next month. Meanwhile, we need a little time to get things ready for him at home anyways. I'm still resting and recovering as much as possible...I have the nastiest bruise ever from my c-section (it looks like I was kicked repeatedly in the stomach by a horse), and it hurts sooo bad every time I engage my abs (which is all the time--I never realized how much you use your abs until now). Ben is back at work because we still want to have the maximum amount of time with Ian once he comes home from the hospital. So life is going back to "normal" if you can call it that...we are finding a new rhythm after the most intense and surreal week of my life.
In summary: we have a son! Life is forever changed!
Welcome to the world, sweet Ian. We're so glad you're here and you are perfect just the way you are (but please, keep growing as quickly as possible so we can take you home and kiss you and hold you all the time). We love you SOOO much!