I never thought I’d be one of those people to write a pregnancy and birth blog post. To be honest, part of me never thought I’d be a mom, either. And not because I struggled conceiving; I just had a hard time believing that, at 35, my husband and I would get to a place where we were comfortable and secure enough to bring a child into the world, but here we are.
Here’s the thing: my pregnancy was incredibly boring, barely an inconvenience. That alone almost felt too taboo to share. It felt safer to commiserate on how terrible pregnancy was with people who had been there, done that. It felt NORMAL to experience horrific morning sickness, to be too uncomfortable to sleep, to be moody and irritable.
I had none of that.
I even asked my OB/GYN if THAT was typical, to feel so… normal, during pregnancy. She looked me dead in the eye and asked, “Why do you want pain?” The answer: I didn’t. But difficult pregnancies were normalized to me. What the media glorified about pregnancy was that all pregnant people’s experience needed to be akin to a war story. My doctor said the discomfort would come later, when I was too big to properly put shoes on—that, sadly, was true. But it wasn’t discomfort so much as annoyance that this easy thing, this thing I had done since I was a toddler, was now a chore to do.
I kept thinking to myself “this is too easy, something is bound to go wrong”, like I was using up my karma early and Murphy’s Law would come crashing onto me like lightning. Logically, I know that’s a fallacy. But then things suddenly were not smooth anymore and that validated my irrational thinking. Did I worry myself into complications? Probably not but who knows?
At just over 36 weeks, I went into preterm labor. Like any soon-to-be-new parent, I wasn’t quite sure I was having contractions. It hurt, sure, a painful cramp in my lower abdomen. But all the blogs online said that a contraction should radiate over my whole belly. Right? That I would just KNOW when labor started, that my natural instincts would take over or… or something. But as the night wore on, I became less and less sure if that was right. Were these Braxton Hicks contractions? Maybe, but they HURT. Suddenly I realize that, that pain I was looking for to validate my pregnancy experience was here. I went through just over a day of those contractions before I called my doctor, before they told me to go to the ER.
I went to the hospital at 10:30 pm on 1/22/2023. I was already 4 centimeters dilated. I hadn’t slept the night before because of the pain. They ran their tests, and come early morning on the 23rd, I was checked into the maternity wing, and shortly thereafter I was on an epidural. The goal was to slow my labor down, to get a round of steroids to help my baby’s lungs develop a wee bit more, and to give him just a bit more time in general. My son was considered a late-term preemie at that point, but the concern still remained that he wasn’t quite ready to be out in the world.
Fast forward past seven rounds of penicillin, countless IV bags, and absolutely no food (chicken and vegetable broth and sugar water Jell-O does not count as food), to finally breaking my water, and absolutely no getting out of bed, before, in the early hours of the 25th when my son finally made his entrance into the world. For those of you keeping track, that was 3 days of me not sleeping, barely eating, and hardly moving, so I shouldn’t have been surprised that when my son came out, his blood sugar was dangerously low.
But the nurses got him to perk up! Hurray! They wheeled us to the maternity ward, and we were off to the races. Or that was the plan. But my son wouldn’t eat, his blood sugar kept dropping, which further made him not want to eat… I got a total of 3 hours with my son before the nurses called in the NICU doctors. 3 hours before they took my son away and admitted him into the NICU.
Oh but “Thankfully the NICU was in the same hospital! Thank goodness it’s one of the best NICU’s in the state!” Yeah, that was great and all, honestly the doctors and nurses were fantastic, but in that moment? I wasn’t thankful. I wasn’t consoled. I wasn’t relieved. I could barely walk yet, was trying to figure out the breast feeding thing (my hospital really pushed/pushes that), and here’s the nurse, taking my baby away. I had failed. I had done something wrong. Right? (No, but logic has no place in this moment).
That’s when all my maternal hormones kicked in. Watching the nurse wheel my baby out of my room, my heart just shattered. I had used up all my good luck on myself and failed. “You failed already as a parent”, the mean little voice in my head kept saying. “You have no right to be upset; your son is better off then other babies in the NICU.” I couldn’t win, I could find no reprieve. My husband was a pillar of calm but even he was devastated and there was only so much we could do to make things better; for ourselves and our child.
Then, on 27th, I was discharged from the hospital. My son was not.
The delayed parenthood was a strange limbo to remain in. I had my baby, but he wasn't in my care, so am I actually a new parent yet? Everyone says to use this time to sleep but then the guilt makes that impossible. How do you sleep when you worry about getting another phone call from the hospital? The guilt about being able to do, well, anything was harder to carry than I expected. We were “fortunate” to be able to get everything done that his premature arrival had kept us from completing, but we were moving and functioning with a ravenous shadow nipping at our heels. Reminding us that nothing was the same. Making us feel terrible if we didn’t spend more time at the hospital with our son, for taking advantage of the time we unexpectedly got with him having 24/7 nursing care. We couldn’t win, couldn’t escape, and yes, being in the NICU helped but at the end of the day we still had to go home and our baby had to remain where he was.
He was there for a week.
Taking him home was beautiful, a huge stress reliever. But then the fear of that missed bonding time settled over us, a type of hypothermia that paralyzed us. The fear that, now without all those professional, watchful eyes, something would go wrong again.
I didn’t dare sleep that first night. I watched my son, making sure he was still breathing, that he wasn’t too hot or too cold, that he would eat, that he had gone to the bathroom.
I was told later this was normal, but why wasn’t I told sooner? And if I had been told, would that have even made a difference?
There are some feelings, some experiences that are universal to all new, first-time parents, but that fear, that delayed parenthood and ordeal of having your child taken into special care because they are too sick, comes with a unique guilt fueled trauma that neither my husband nor I knew what to do with. It wasn’t until we were home that other NICU parents made themselves known; a community emerged.
We didn’t feel so alone but nothing would change what we went through. No amount of “You didn’t do anything wrong” would change things now.
The fear is still there of “what does this mean for my child?” Will I look back in 10 years and say the lack of early skin-to-skin is the reason my son is acting out now? Or the reason behind XYZ problem? The “what ifs” are frigid mountains looming in my mind, my destination ominously heading toward their peaks despite the danger. I know such thinking is a delusion, but that doesn’t change the road I’m on, either.
So what was the point in this story? Partially its meant as a therapeutic exercise for myself, to get out all these churning, fear fueled burning thoughts out into a place where the only space they can occupy is digital rather than mental and emotional. The other part? Is to let others know there is a community out there of people who went through this; both the mundane and the traumatic. That acknowledge it’s traumatic and the toll it takes, the way it changes what you thought about whatever parenting style you were going to tackle this baby with.
No one really considers the NICU or early labor to be part of their birth story, so, when it happens, you’re blindsided like a bicycle hit by a truck at an intersection. This experience was not fun, it was not beautiful. And just like I discovered I wasn’t alone in this, in these feelings or experiences, I want others to know the same. I want others to know that, just like how my son and I ended up being okay, you’ll be okay too, even if it doesn’t feel like it right now.
You will get through this. You can do this. You are not alone.