going through hard times changes us. we don’t always come out stronger; we do come out different.
sometimes it takes distance to evaluate and digest. time helps to heal. in the best cases, strength and wisdom emerge. in any case, sharing our struggles can be therapeutic.
i had a few scares early in pregnancy and was diagnosed with a large subchorionic hematoma at just 6 weeks. for the unfamiliar, SCH is one of the most common reasons for first trimester bleeding; it’s a collection of blood between the membranes of the placenta and uterus. it can cause complications, but in most cases it’s not a big deal and resolves on its own. i had weekly ultrasounds until it did resolve, at 20 weeks. from then on, it should have been smooth sailing.
i had planned to have a fit and active pregnancy, and while research suggested there was no statistically significant correlation between SCH and miscarriage, i felt safer taking it easy. my new regimen was only low-impact exercise (no jumping/running) and gentle yoga/matwork, very modified and always erring on the side of caution. i didn’t drink coffee or take over-the-counter medicines besides prenatal vitamins. i paid attention to what i ate and tried to be healthy. pretty generic (/slightly paranoid) first time mom stuff.
one, two, skip a few (months) … we spent my 30th birthday up north in michigan as a final baby-moon. i was 28 weeks and figured i’d play it safe and not travel after then (even though i was medically cleared to do so until 34 weeks).
the day after we returned, i woke up at 4am soaked in (colorless/odorless) fluid. i searched for answers online and prayed that it was just urine. i monitored myself until it was time to leave for work, and i didn’t have any more leaking, so i went in. i stole a pH strip from our lab and tested myself, and i was in normal range (pro tip: amniotic fluid has a higher pH). i figured i was ok. halfway through the work day, i just had a bad feeling. i called my OB group for reassurance, and instead they told me to come in right away. the amniostat came back negative, but i was held a few more hours for monitoring because my blood pressure had dropped dangerously low immediately following the procedure.
the next day, i went back to work. i taught a gentle morning matwork class and a lunch time yoga class. i felt ok. day went fine. after dinner, cozy on the couch, i started bleeding. like, a lot. i called and asked if that was a normal symptom following an amniostat. they told me to come in asap. partial placental abruption.
one, two, skip a few (hours)… monitoring turned to quick action; baby was coming, medicines to stop labor failed, baby was breech: emergency c-section.
thursday, march 24, at 3:03am, my june baby was born.
i consider myself to be pretty level-headed and usually able to handle my shit, but i struggled a lot with the weight of the situation. looking back, i think it was the combination of sleep deprivation, hormones galore, and a nagging feeling that my body had failed.
my number one job as a mother was to keep my baby safe, and despite my best efforts, i didn’t do that. my tiny baby had to finish developing in an isolette, in a hospital… not in my body. every night i went home to an empty crib.
i was determined to provide breastmilk for my baby. besides giving him the best nutrition possible, i think part of my motivation was to redeem myself, for my body to feel like less of a failure. he was way too small initially for any kind of latching or feeding by mouth, so i pumped from day 1. with the preterm birth and a history of PCOS, my supply struggled. two weeks in, i was deemed ‘low-supply’ by the IBCLC and encouraged to take prescription medication. i couldn’t bring myself to do it; i knew some of the medicine would pass into the milk, and my baby was still so tiny (under 3 lbs). i continued pumping as much as i could to build up supply — 10-12x per day; every 2-3 hours, around the clock. a typical pump session took me 45 minutes from start to finish. by the time i was done, i had just over an hour until my next pump. day in, day out. it was exhausting. i secretly hated people who told me i should ‘rest up now while the baby is in the nicu.’
during that time, pumping took up, on average, 8 hours a day. thankfully i had medical leave from my job, because it turned into my full time job. i worked it into my daily nicu visits, carefully planning skin-on-skin time around his 3 hour feeding schedule and my pumps (he couldn’t be picked up during or shortly after a tube feeding, or else he would spit it all up). i had dozens of alarms set on my phone.
having a baby in the nicu is hard. back and forth, back and forth. heel sticks, PICC lines, tubes and wires. oxygen up and down, up and down. forgetting to breathe, desats, brady incidents, staring at monitors. waiting. worrying. he was very sick around week 3 and required 2 blood transfusions. he had a minor heart defect, reflux of urine to his kidneys, and underdeveloped lungs which required oxygen support and medication. he was puffy for much of his nicu stay, and they were constantly adjusting his medicines. the eye exams to screen for ROP looked like legit torture. he had a hernia that required surgery. i was taking it all in while not sleeping and battling with post-pregnancy hormones and mastitis as my supply continued to regulate.
i tried to stay positive, giving people the good news when we had it. and we did have triumphs and happy times, but even those felt somewhat heavy. i longed for the day we would take him home. and eventually, 72 days after birth, that day came.
but it still felt heavy. things were still hard.
we worked on latching and trying to breastfeed directly, but he wasn’t down for it. i kept on pumping (for a total of 13 months).
he would spit up during feeds, after feeds, between feeds… basically all the time. we used blankets and full-size bath towels as burp cloths because actual burp cloths were laughably tiny and not feasible for the amount of spit up he would generate. he was taking an iron supplement, and his spit up would stain everything. eventually, changing the flow of his bottle nipple helped a little. all the while he was still gaining weight, so doctors weren’t concerned.
he pooped all the time; most days, his diaper needed to be changed at least every hour. we didn’t realize until later that it was a side effect of the low-dose antibiotic that he was on for the kidney reflux.
he rarely slept and was cranky often (probably from the constant pooping and spitting up). i had friends who delivered babies around the same time, posting about how their babes were always happy or sleeping like angels. i felt like i was doing it all wrong. and i was just so fucking tired.
a couple of months into it, things settled down a little bit. he had started daycare, was sleeping more, and seemed to be happier. then, cold season hit.
he was sick from october until march. he was (mis)diagnosed with bronchiolitis and prescribed frequent albuterol nebulizer treatments. he could only sleep prone on a high incline, so most of the time that meant on my chest, sitting up, between pump sessions. some days he was very lethargic and his skin lacked color. we got a home oxygen monitor did our best to keep him out of the hospital. he started falling behind with developmental milestones; he was just constantly struggling to breathe.
after a hospitalization from suspected pneumonia which also showed a partially collapsed lung, we started seeing a pediatric pulmonologist and found out our son had an airway defect called tracheomalacia. basically, whenever he would cough or cry, his airway would close. to make matters worse, the albuterol was exacerbating the condition (relaxing the muscles of the airway that were already too relaxed). his rescue medication was changed, and things started turning around.
a few weeks after his tracheomalacia diagnosis, he turned one. the next day, we moved to michigan, and he stopped going to daycare. it wasn’t an overnight change, but gradually the weight lessened. the day i finally stopped pumping was a glorious one. a combination of him growing up and not being constantly surrounded by other sick kids meant he was sick less often. in the three months between nicu followup visits, he went from at risk/falling behind to exceeding his adjusted milestones.
a month from now, he will turn two. thankfully, this year has been way less eventful. or more eventful, depending on how you measure. he learned how to talk, how to walk, how to climb, how to dance, how to throw things, how to sing, how to hug, and how to kiss. maybe someday he will learn how to sleep.
maybe someday i will, too.
our story is far from over, but this is where we are now. it’s still not easy, but when i look back there are certainly times that i don’t know exactly how we made it through. if we keep on doing that, we should be ok.