*Warning to the squeamish: I'm going to talk about some of the birthing process. It's a little icky. Proceed if you dare.
I've been thinking about Madelyn's birth a lot lately. I feel like most birth stories go pretty much the same: painful contractions, pushing the baby out, and then feeling overjoyed as your new baby is placed gently into your arms. And that is what puts us in a totally different category than most other new parents. Madelyn's first few months of life were pure pain and sadness and frustration. Oh, and a whole lot of waiting, and waiting, and waiting.
I went into spontaneous labor on April 5, 2010, six weeks prior to my due date. I had no idea what was going on. All I knew was that I was in horrendous pain that kept getting worse. I remember thinking, "If this hurts this badly now, real labor will kill me." I went into active, full-out contractions at 11:00 that night, and by about 1:30 am, I was having contractions every five minutes. Finally, after accepting the reality that I was in premature labor, Jason and I drove to our nearby hospital (longest five minutes of my life).
Once I was admitted (by a receptionist who clearly did not believe I was in labor, despite my being unable to sign admittance papers because of crippling contractions), the labor and delivery nurses confirmed that I was indeed in labor, and had actually dialated to seven cm thus far. My water baggie was also bulging, which pretty much neccessitated that Madelyn be delivered immediately instead of stopping the labor. The nurses had an operating room cleaned and prepped in case an emergency C-section was needed. The anesthesiologist was brought in; he quickly placed my IV, and administered a "walking epidural." After the epidural took affect, I was able to relax somewhat (you know, despite being terrified, and in shock, and trembling wildly as a side-effect of the epidural). I was taken into the operating room a half hour later, and began pushing. Jason held my leg so that I would remain bent in half, so he saw the whole thing, despite his original desire to be on the sidelines. Some crazy old nurse held my other leg and got after me if I made any noise while pushing. I spent the first ten or so minutes pushing so that Madelyn would "drop." Then came the actual pushing to get the baby out, which was helped along by the vacuum and some other medical intervention due to Madelyn's dropping heart rate. While I was pushing, I tried to comfort myself with the idea that Madelyn had to be at least five pounds, and that we'd probably get to go home soon. However, as soon as I saw my child (or rather her back), my heart fell: she was the smallest baby I had ever seen. Jason rushed out of the room with our still silent child. I finished the birthing process, and tried not to dissolve into tears as the doctor sewed me up.
I was taken into the same room I started in, to spend my first hour as a mother alone and in shock. I hadn't seen my child's face, my husband was gone, and I felt like I was in a horrible dream. This could not be happening to me. I spent the time in between the nurses' visits sobbing and praying. I asked God why this was happening, what had gone wrong, why we were being punished....I honestly didn't know if Madelyn would live. The delivering doctor came in and told me that Madelyn had a heart murmur, possible water on the brain, and a bunch of other problems that seemed foreign and terrifying. Jason finally came back to my room to tell me what was going on, and to tell me what our child looked like (we had left our camera at home in the rush to get to the hospital). I was then taken up to the NICU to see my daughter for the first time, and to learn more about what was going on. I could hardly tell what Madelyn looked like beneath all of the medical equipment, but she was incredibly small. We left the NICU feeling marginally better.
I was taken back to my mother/baby room, where Jason and I cried and talked until the decent hours of the morning. Then we began to make phone calls to our siblings and a few friends (we had called our parents while I was in labor). I then waited for my parents to come while Jason went back to the NICU and began discussing our daughter in earnest with the NeoNatologist on call. A little after 9 am, my parents and sister arrived. My parents took me up to see Madelyn, and I got to hold her for the first time. She was light as air, and so tiny that I thought I might break her. We were given even more information, and I went back to my room again.
We spent the rest of that day and the next at the hospital. We went to the NICU as much as we could, and my heart was broken every moment I couldn't be there. Actually, it was kind of torturous to be in the mother/baby ward, because I could hear other babies crying, and I watched as babies were wheeled in to their mothers' rooms, and I couldn't have that because my baby wasn't healthy. That ended up being a theme in my life for the next two months- extreme guilt and pain that I was no longer pregnant, even though I was supposed to be; anger towards my body for letting Madelyn down (we've learned since then that Madelyn's premature birth is due to something that my body had no control over). In short, it was a rough time. I've honestly never felt such deep heart-break and pain.
But then, the miracles began to happen. As Madelyn spent more time in the NICU (seven and a half weeks from beginning to end), more tests came back with good results, tubes came off, and Madelyn gained weight. We began to see her sweet little personality emerge past the sleepiness and irritation at being bothered so much. Madelyn went from being 3 lbs. 1 oz., having a bottom that barely covered the palm of my hand, and drowning in diapers the size of a playing card, to being a hefty 6 lbs. and almost too big for preemie clothes. This is not to say that the NICU is a cake walk- I can honestly say that those weeks were some of our most painful, stressful, frustrating, frightening, exhausting, etc. ever. Getting Madelyn out of there was agonizing- I went home every night feeling like a part of me was missing, and terrified that Madelyn was going to stop breathing during the night and that nobody would notice amongst the constant beeping and activity in the NICU.
The day Madelyn came home was rainy, and a little cold, but it was magical. We were finally home together, without nurses, doctors, or the constant beeping. We then began to experience the many of the normal new baby things, and some not-so-normal new baby things. And that seems to be our pattern- some of our life with Madelyn is very normal, but much of it is very abnormal. However, over the course of the last 14 months, we've found that our sweet little girl has brought a few miracles into this world with her: peace and joy, love and happiness. We will never have a "normal" life. Madelyn will always require lots of help, and a ridiculous number of doctor and therapist visits, but she will always be worth everything we've gone through to get her here and to keep her here.
This is what Madelyn looked like when I first saw her:
Later, on the first day, after some equipment had been removed:
To give you an idea of Madelyn's size as a newborn-that's me holding her:
About half-way into our NICU stay:
The day Madelyn came home: