Friday, August 8th
A year ago today I woke up exhausted, after waking up several times throughout the night with intense contractions. I thought that I would call the doctor this morning and at least check in, hoping that they would tell me that everything was probably fine, though in my heart I was pretty sure that this wasn’t true. My mom came over to watch Abi for the day, and Esteban went to work. Our RD meetings that day would be pretty low-key, so I decided that I would go and just sit in a comfortable chair there and try to participate in the meeting as much as I could. I had called and asked to speak to the doctor on call at exactly 8AM when the office opened, and by the time I left at 8:45 I still had not heard back. My mom drove me to the apartment where our meetings were happening, and I continued to wait for the call. After a bit I had to go to the bathroom, and when I did, I noticed red blood—exactly what they had told me to call about. I panicked. I took a deep breath and walked out back into the living room, mumbling something about needing to go outside for a second, and stumbled out the door. I called the OBGYN office again, but this time, I asked to speak to a midwife. They had told me that I would probably be a doctor patient from now on, since I was “High-risk” but I needed someone to call me back, and I was pretty certain that the Midwife on call would. I left the message and within 5 minutes I was getting a call from midwife Lisa. I told her what was happening, my voice trembling, the lump in my throat getting bigger. “You need to come to the birth center sweetie. Hopefully it’s nothing, but let’s just check you out to be sure,” Lisa said, lightly. I agreed and walked back into the apartment where all my co-workers were gathered. As soon as I opened my mouth to try to tell them that I needed to go to the hospital, I burst into tears. As I stood there awkwardly covering my face and sobbing, they surrounded me with open arms, laid their hands on me and prayed. I can’t tell you how thankful I am to live and work in a place with so much love and support.
My mom came and picked me up again, after getting Abi ready for another day at Abuela’s house. We had decided that my mom would just take Abi to her house, since it was closer to the hospital, and we didn’t know what would end up happening that day. We called Esteban and told him to meet us at the hospital. The drive was long and tense. I began to feel the contractions more frequently and intensely. As Abi chattered mindlessly in the back, I tried my hardest to focus on her and not on the consistent pangs in my stomach. “Where are we going, Mommy?” she asked innocently.
“We have to go back to the hospital to make sure that baby sister is okay,” I responded, praying that this would be true.
By the time we arrived at the hospital, Esteban was already there. He and I went upstairs alone, and my mom left with Abi. As soon as we walked into the birth center, all hands were on deck. A couple nurses whisked me into a room, and pulled off my clothes. They threw a johnnie on me and slapped a fetal monitor on my stomach. Why it is that when you are pregnant, all decency goes out the window, I’ll never know. I could tell that whatever was going on with me, the nurses thought it was serious, because they bustled around the room quietly, a grim expression wiped across their faces. They found the heart beat, and started the monitor for the contractions. I was having contractions every couple minutes by this point. The nurse looked at me, “Are you in pain? Those are pretty big contractions!”
“Um, yeah. I think I am,” I said, through shivers. They explained to me that they were going to start a magnesium drip in an IV to try to stop the contractions, so they whipped out a needle to stick in my hand. After a few tries they finally stuck one of my small veins and the most-horrific-medicine-ever-known-to-man started to flow into my body. Any pregnant woman (or any person for that matter) who has ever had magnesium knows exactly what I am talking about. Within a few minutes I was fairly certain that my body was on fire and that someone was spinning my uncomfortable hospital bed in circles. And my head was pounding. I closed my eyes and in walked the Doctor, who told me that he was going to do an internal exam to check my cervix. As he was finishing, Esteban and I both noticed his grim expression. I will never forget his next words.
“Well. It’s not good. There has been progression. You are 1 centimeter now, and your cervix is very soft.”
“Nooo,” I moaned and tears started streaming down my face. I could hardly wrap my mind around what was happening.
“We are going to try to stop the contractions, but I don’t know if we will be able to,” he continued. He put his hand on my knee. “I’m so sorry, but your baby is not viable, so there is nothing we can do.” I’m sure he said other things at that point, but everything else is kind of a blur. Esteban and I cried, prayed and cried some more, scared to death that we were loosing our sweet baby girl. I do remember asking the doctor when hospitals in Boston consider a baby to be “viable.” He said (and I remember this word for word), “I mean, if you were 25 weeks right now, I would put you on an ambulance and send you to Beth Israel. But you’re only 22 weeks, so there is nothing I can do.” He left the room and the nurse came in, a look of pity in her eyes. I looked at her and asked her when hospitals in Boston would take babies. She looked me straight in the eyes and said quietly, “There are some that will save a baby at 23 and a half weeks.” A sliver of hope. I was 22 weeks and 6 days. Tomorrow I would be 23 weeks. I just had to make it to tomorrow, and then maybe someone would consider my case.
We spent the rest of that day crying and praying, praying and crying. We listened to our baby’s heartbeat and cried, felt her kicks and imagined how we were going to tell Abi that her baby sister was gone. I was heartbroken thinking about how heartbroken she would be. They ended up giving me another medicine by mouth to stop the contractions, Inducin, and eventually, the contractions slowed and finally stopped. More hope. The doctor continued to give us a pretty grim prognosis, explaining that it was probably just the medication that was stopping the contractions, and they may start again once I stopped it. At the end of the night, he explained that the plan would be to discharge me the following day, since there was nothing they could do for the baby. Some of our friends and family were horrified, telling us that we needed to demand being transferred to a hospital in Boston, etc… Throughout this process, it was amazing how God gave Esteban and I a like-mind about every decision we had to make. We both were devastated that Friday, but something also gave us peace. We both felt a “wait-and-see” that day. In that moment, we were okay. In that moment, our baby was safe, her heart was beating, and her home was intact. In that moment, there was still a chance. And so we held on to that chance, and decided that we would see what tomorrow would bring.
Saturday, August 9th
A year ago today, the first thing the nurse said to me was, “You are 23 weeks! Congratulations! That’s a big deal!” I smiled, and chose to rejoice in this victory. Esteban and I thanked God for one more day with our baby girl. The plan was, at that point, to send me home that afternoon, and I would remain on strict bed rest until either I got worse, or until I was full term. I would be lying if I said that I was not terrified of this. You see, I was coming to the end of the medications they were giving me to stop the contractions and I was terrified of starting to feel them again. The doctor had changed that day and Dr. K. was a kind and understanding woman, who I could tell from the beginning felt sad about our situation. That whole morning, I was uneasy, worried and restless. I knew that I was probably going home, but something just didn’t feel right. I prayed all day that the contractions wouldn’t come back. Once the time came to turn off the medicine, my body started shaking uncontrollably. I knew I had to calm down, since my stress could cause more contractions, so I kept taking deep breaths, willing my body to be at peace. Finally I was able to close my eyes and rest and in that moment, Dr. K. came in and told us that she had started to do a little more research, because she wanted to be sure that there was really nothing else that she could do for us, and she decided to call one of the doctors at Beth Israel. She said that when she explained our situation to them, the doctor there said, “No, she has options. You need to tell her that she has options.” More hope. She gave us a quick overview of all the problems that a baby born at 23 weeks could have, and told us that if we were interested in trying to save our baby, that she would have the neonatologist on call come and talk to us about the chances of survival, etc… We both said “Yes!” as we breathed relief into the air. Dr. K. smiled. “I knew you guys were going to say that!”
Just a few minutes later we were talking to the neonatologist on call about our tiny baby’s chances of survival if she were to be born today. She would have about a 20% chance of survival and about a 10% chance of survival and being “normal.” Her lungs were not developed. When I got to Beth Israel, they would start giving me steroid shots to help mature her lungs, but she would still need to be on a ventilator at birth. She might not be breathing at all and need to be resuscitated. The oxygen that she would need to survive would probably mess up her eyes—that was why Stevie Wonder was blind—who knew?? She could be deaf. She would have a high chance of having Cerebal Palsy and a very high chance of a brain bleed that could affect her development in a big way. Her stomach would not be ready for food, and she could get something called NEC, which could kill her. She wouldn’t be able to feed by mouth for at least 10 weeks. The list went on. “But,” he said, “she is a girl, and that’s a good thing. She is a singleton, and that’s a good thing. And…” he continued, and he turned to look at Esteban, “she won’t be all white, and that is also a good thing.” Apparently black/latino girls do the best as preemies, and White boys do the worst (affectionately called “whimpy white boys). We actually laughed, a needed moment of lightness. There was hope. We felt hope. He said, “So if you want to try to save your baby despite all these things, then we will put you on an ambulance and send you to Beth Israel right now. They said they can take you. Do you guys want to take a minute and think about it?”
Esteban and I looked at each other, and I’m pretty sure that we both said the same thing at the same time, “We want to go to Boston! We don’t need to talk about it.” We knew that we were on the same page. We didn’t want our baby to suffer or to be in pain, but we knew we wanted to give her the best chance at life possible. Dr. K bounced up with a spring in her step and said she would go call Beth Israel and the ambulance. We all laughed, overjoyed that there was a chance that our girl could live. It would be a long road, but there was hope and sometimes that’s all you need.
They told me there was an ambulance that was on its way. A few minutes later, they let me know it would be a while longer because they had to send a higher level ambulance since I was pregnant—it had to be able to save 2 people, instead of just one. Ironic, isn’t it? Just a few minutes ago, they were going to send me and my “not-viable-baby” home because there was nothing they could do, and suddenly, they were thinking about how they could preserve its life.
The next couple of hours were filled with phone calls, tears and prayers of thanksgiving. The ambulance arrived and I was strapped into what felt like my seat for my next trip to outer space. Hooked up to my IV, a blood pressure machine and my catheter (did I forget to mention that glamorous part of the story?), I jolted and bounced with every bump on the road from Newburyport to Boston. (Why don’t they give ambulances better shock systems?)
I arrived at Beth Israel, and was wheeled up to the NICU. This was my first glimpse of the place that would become my home for the next 3 months. They told the EMTs that I didn’t need to go to the NICU if I hadn’t had the baby yet, and so they wheeled me up one more floor to Labor and Delivery. I signed a bunch of paperwork from my strapped down position, and they brought me into room 1. Esteban arrived shortly thereafter, since he could not ride in the ambulance. The two doctors who would become my primary doctors while I was there were there to meet me. They were well-versed and ready. I could tell they knew what they were doing and it gave me peace. They told me that they didn’t think that I would have the baby today, and that they thought that I would be okay. They said that the plan would be to continue the inducin regimen that they had started at the previous hospital, continue to give me an IV, and monitor the baby. They checked my cervix and said that I was probably a fingertip to 1 centimeter, and I cried tears of relief and joy that I had not progressed more. They told me that they were going to take out the catheter, because getting up to go to the bathroom was not going to make me have a baby (thank God). They gave me the first betamethatsone shot to help the baby’s lung development, just in case she decided to come early. But they didn’t think it would be today. They gave us such a different prognosis than the one we had heard the day before. The day before we were convinced that we would be loosing our baby girl, and today, we thought that maybe we would go on to have a full term pregnancy. The doctors at Beth Israel saw this kind of thing all the time, and they were confident, and that gave us peace.
My parents brought Abi to visit, which made us smile and laugh more than we had the whole day before. Finally, after a very long and intense day, I was wheeled down to floor 6, the anti-partum floor, where I would be “at least until Monday” was what they said. I slept comfortably that night, and we thanked God for one more day with our girl.