This is part 19 in our Birth & Parenting Series where mamas & papas share either about their birthing experience or parenting perspective. Please let us know if you’d like to join in the conversation. All our series can be found on the sidebar, or at this link, here.
This incredibly brave family endured a horrifically difficult entry into the world of their second daughter, but with grace and amazing heart, their sweet little girl makes it. Thank God for great doctors and nurses and miracles.
I had dreamed about Harper’s birth story since the day I found out she existed. After all, my firstborn, Elle, came into this world with a vengeance at 36 weeks. (I’ll spare the details but the story of Elle and I began with many unpleasant things, i.e., HELLP syndrome, sunny-side up, post partum hemorrhage, transfusion, retained placenta, D&C). So, I naturally I believed that things were guaranteed to be comparatively smoother the second time around. I could not wait to meet weeks 37, 38, 39, and even week 40; to pack my own hospital bag; to count and time contractions; to possibly try an all natural birth (ok, I would have for sure ended up with an epidural but I liked they idea of having a choice in the matter) – all experiences I had been swiftly robbed of via Elle’s emergency induction.
I was blissfully pregnant with baby #2 at 29 weeks, still working, feeling as well as one can. I had no signs of HELLP syndrome so far and was so thankful. On Monday afternoon, I was driving home from work talking on the phone to my mom, per usual, when I felt a sort of gush. I had a terrifying flashback to my post-partum hemorrhage experiences but was mildly relieved to see clear fluid. I pulled up in my driveway, stepped out of my car and there flooded the rest of my amniotic fluid. All of it. I called my OB who did not hide try to hide the alarm in his voice. “Is the fluid pink?” “More like red.” “Is the baby responding by moving?” “No.” “Have you felt the baby move today at all?” “I don’t know!” God, please help us.
It was 45 excruciating minutes until I heard her heartbeat. When I arrived at labor and delivery, I was contracting pretty regularly but not dilated. Full PPROM, it was termed (preterm premature rupture of membranes). I had a 10% chance of the current labor being stopped. If/then, I had a 20% chance of not going into labor again within 48 hours. If/then, I had a 50% chance of not going into labor within 7 days and then 50% with each remaining week. So then began my new birth plan: magnesium to slow contractions and for nuero development, betamethatsone to speed baby’s lung development, heavy-dosage IV antibiotics for 48 hours, followed by oral antibiotics for 5 days, and then hospital bed rest for as long as baby could tolerate her desiccated home. My doctors were prepared to let baby stay inside my barely-moist womb for up to 5 weeks – at 34-weeks studies have proved the risks of being inside outweigh the risks of prematurity. Yes, risks . . . lots of them. The major risks at that point were infection and/or placental failure since one major function of amniotic fluid is to support the placenta. Then the neonatologist came to speak with about 10 minutes into my 30 minute magnesium blast. Magnesium is torture. Imagine a burning feverish feeling while seeing triple vision and puking. At least it numbed the pain of hearing how our baby was at risk of death, blindness, and brain bleeds.
Clearly, I had to adjust my goals. I became blessed and happy to meet week 31 and 32. Odds schmods. This baby was a miracle already. We made it 3 weeks without incident. My dear husband went to work each morning, picked up my sweet and crazy Elle, and came to the hospital, if only for an hour. My heart broke each night saying goodbye to her sweet face. She made d0 with wheelchair rides, popsicles, and love from all the nurses. We had a sleepover after one week where she, baby, and I shared my hospital bed. We decorated my room with her paintings and photos. She was already the greatest big sister in the world. We made the best out of our situation because we all had to be strong for the newest member of the family of 4.
On the first day of 33 weeks, I woke up to bleeding, a lot more than usual. Things soon began moving quickly, as fast as they had on day 1 of this journey. Baby’s heart rate wasn’t quite steady. The contractions were back, regular, and close. The placenta was quitting on us and fast. It was time. I was wheeled to L and D where I was given pitocin to try to speed things along even faster to avoid a c-section (epidural, please and thank you). Six hours I was in the operating room. Three pushes later, #2 was here, plump and pink, all 4 pounds of her. The preemie visions that had haunted me were quickly replaced by the sight of my perfectly perfect angel . . . and she was strong, breathing, and alert. I got to hold her – another piece of God’s grace for which I am forever grateful.
Two days after her birth, I was released from the hospital. One thing you never expect to do as a mother is to leave your baby at a hospital. It’s more difficult than you’ve imagined. As happy as I was to be home, I cried after 15 minutes and then made the 30-minute commute back to Ann Arbor to visit her one more time that night. We spend the next 14 days doing that. I sat by her isolet and wrote to her as she slept:
“Day 25. That is the number of days it as been since our journey hit a bump in the road. I won’t call it a “wrong turn” because as I sit here on day 25, I am able to stare at your perfect face and feel your tiny hand. Tiny everything, Harper Grace, but so amazingly strong. I promise to never forget your strength and to try to always be as strong for you and Elle as you are right now. Speaking of Elle, you owe her a thanks because she has already taught me so much about how to be your mother. 2 sweet and perfect miracles – we are blessed by His Grace.
Day 26. Some promises I make to you, my love child. I promise to remember that my babies are only toddlers for a short time and to say no less and distract more. I promise to imagine what it is like in your little world when you are cranky and to remind myself that you’re only been here a few hundred days and so it’s perfectly reasonable to cry when tasty crayons are snatched away. I promise to remember that I have no right to speak to you any worse than I would a perfect stranger. I will be gentle and sympathetic in my voice because you deserve that more than anyone I know. I promise we will celebrate your own voice and allow you to screech like a wild animal and be a silly goofball. I promise to talk to you constantly and point out everything in your world, remembering each thing is new and exciting. I promise we won’t just read Elle’s books but one’s for you, too. I promise to teach you to be the kind of child and person that others love to be around. I will have high standards for you but never too high. I promise to teach you how to find real happiness so you never need more money or things to have joy. I promise to always find “you and me” time. I promise to tell you the truth; I won’t sugar-coat it too much but will always give you plenty of people in your life who treasure you and will protect and love you so much it hurts. I promise to teach you how to stay safe, as much as it hurts me to admit you could ever need it. I promise there will be times I love you so much I cry. I promise that no matter how old you are, I will never stop taking sneak peeks at you sleeping and playing. I promise I will always hound you and Elle to value each other (she is the greatest gift I will EVER give you). I promise to realize that you have to make mistakes and that I shouldn’t protect you so much you stop experiencing life. I will try to give you space to fall off your bike, date the wrong guy or take a semester off college. Lastly, when you are old enough, I promise to teach you the first lesson you taught me: “Life is not about waiting for the storm to pass, it’s about learning to dance in the rain.” And finally my love, you are stretching and gurgling, so I will pick you up (because I can) and give you many, many kisses and thank God for our journey and for you, my angel.”
They estimated that Harper would come home at the end of March. She spent just two weeks in the NICU, tearing off her jaundice goggles, IV tape, and breathing tube at every chance she got. She had so few problems and amazed us all as I knew she would. She came home at 4 lbs even. 4 lbs of brave, 4 lbs of beauty, 4 lbs of grace.