When Maddie was born more than eleven weeks premature I wrote an account of the day she was born and the horrifying, emotionally wrenching days that followed. For the next seven days I will post here the story of how this amazing little girl defied the odds and survived when none of her doctors thought she would.
PART ONE begins ten weeks after Heather had been put on bed rest because her water had broke prematurely, and three weeks after she had been hospitalized.
The day Madeline was born started not unlike those of the previous two weeks Heather and I had spent at the hospital. I woke on the tiny bench-like ledge I was using as a bed, ate the bagel from Heather’s breakfast tray, and chatted with Heather about how she felt. That morning Heather had tenderness in her abdomen, and the amniotic fluid that she had been leaking for weeks was becoming redder in color. This may sound hard to believe, but Heather had been having alarming symptoms for so long without having to deliver that neither one of us was as concerned as, say, the average person would be if they woke up with red stuff leaking from their basement area. Soon our obstetrician dropped by to do an exam of Heather’s cervix, and, after declaring it in good shape, took off with plans to stop by again tomorrow. It seemed like we would make it through another day.
Around noon my parents dropped by to say goodbye as they were heading back to their home in the San Francisco Bay Area. Once my parents bid Heather adieu it was decided they would drop me off at my place for a much needed shower, and then I would come back to spend the rest of the day with Heather. Before we got home, however, my Mom suggested we stop for lunch, so we went to a Deli where I ordered an onion omelet and split an impulsive order of a sardine sandwich with my Dad. As you may imagine, my breath was hardly minty-fresh afterwards, and I knew that I would have to brush my teeth thoroughly before returning to Heather whose pregnancy had made her very sensitive of smells.
After lunch my parents came up to Heather and my place to use the bathroom. Minutes after getting inside the phone rang. It was a frantic Heather who cried, “They’re going to do a C-section! Come back to the hospital now!” My parents, who thankfully hadn’t left for home yet, raced out with me leaving our dog Rigby wondering what was up with our two minute visit. As my Dad drove to the hospital as fast as possible I was glad I didn’t have to drive because my hands were shaking and I was unable to think straight. I couldn’t believe this was actually happening. Though the doctors were shocked that we had almost made it to twenty-nine weeks, Heather and I were still hoping/thinking we would get to at least 30 weeks.
As we neared the hospital I realized that A) I had not showered and smelled like a homeless man during the summer, and B) my breath stank of onions and sardines. I immediately imagined leaning over Heather in the delivery room and breathing, “You’re doing great! You can do this!” and her screaming “GET AWAY FROM ME!!!” Realizing I had to do something and fast, I commandeered every piece of gum in the car, and began chewing a giant wad of wintergreen/spicy peppermint/Bazooka Joe gum.
Once I arrived at Heather’s side she told me that her leaking amniotic fluid had suddenly turned thick and bright red a half- hour earlier. When she told her nurse about this she was informed within minutes that she would be having a C-section ASAP. Everything was happening incredibly fast. Soon the anesthesiologist arrived and I held Heather’s hand as he inserted the needle into her back for the epidural. Heather didn’t seem to be in too much pain, although she did wonder out loud who the hell came up with this pregnancy idea in the first place. The nurses then wheeled Heather away and left me to change into scrubs. I took the scrubs into the bathroom and began to change. I must have been taking too long though because a nurse soon knocked on the door and bellowed that I didn’t have to take off all my clothes and that I could just put the scrubs on over what I had on. I called out “Yeah, I know that,” then looked at my stark naked body in the mirror.
Once clad in my scrubs (with the clothes I had come in hastily thrown back on underneath) I was told to wait in Heather’s room as they prepped her for surgery. Heather’s parents soon arrived and I filled them in on what was happening before the nurse came to get me.
In the delivery room Heather was lying on her back facing away from me. I could see her feet all the way up to her neck, but not her head which was hidden behind a blue curtain. The nurse took me around the curtain and directed me to sit on a stool next to Heather’s head. I did so and took Heather’s hand. Soon our obstetrician and another doctor went to work, but all Heather and I could see was the curtain. From time to time I would sit up as tall as possible and get a peek at the doctors who were busy looking downward and moving their hands to and fro. Eventually a doctor said. “Looks like a baby!” and I stood up. That was an, uh, mistake. There was no baby in sight, but I did spy a gaping hole in Heather’s stomach area. When I sat back down on the stool Heather looked at me like, “How’s it look?” I forced a feeble thumbs-up.
I stayed on the stool from that point on, and in a couple of minutes one of the doctors said “Here we go!” I sat up as tall as possible once again and saw our obstetrician leaning over Heather. She seemed to be putting some real muscle into it, and it was a bit disconcerting to see her looking as if she was struggling to open an especially tight bottle of peanut butter. Seconds later, however, we heard a baby crying! Heather and I were ecstatic that Madeline was able to use her lungs because our greatest fear, what with her being premature and lacking in amniotic fluid (the thing that develops a baby’s lungs), was that her lungs would be too immature for her to survive. But here she was crying! Heather and I shared a thankful look, and tears of joy welled in Heather’s eyes as she said “She’s crying! She’s crying!”
Soon little Madeline was hoisted in the air, and the first thing I saw was that she had this shock of black hair just like mine!
I had never really stopped to imagine what our baby would look like when she came out, and now that I was looking at her it was this amazing confirmation that this baby we had been talking about in the abstract for so long was in fact my own daughter! The nurses placed her on a table, and I took stock of the rest of her. Let’s see…two hands…two feet…a cute little face…all looks good! I then fumbled in my scrubs for Heather’s camera as a nurse announced her weight: “Three pounds one ounce!” She was way bigger than the doctors had imagined she would be, which was heartening, and I took photo after photo of Madeline as the nurses cleaned her.
Before too long Madeline was wrapped up in a blanket and the nurses were ready to take her to the NICU. Heather and I had been told that if Maddie was stable enough they would let Heather see her real quick before taking her away, so when a nurse took Maddie over to Heather I felt great knowing that Maddie was indeed stable enough for her first visit with her Mom. Heather kissed Maddie on the little hat the nurses had put on her, and Heather was glowing. It was a beautiful thing to see Maddie and her mother’s first moment together.
In the NICU I was told I could stay with Maddie for ten minutes and watch the nurses tend to her. In that time I got even more pics including her first close-up, and, when the nurses told me the ten minutes were up, Maddie was a healthy pink color and still crying away. The nurses seemed real casual as they said I could come back in a couple hours, at 6:30, to see her again.
To be continued in PART TWO when Maddie takes a turn for the worse.