Strap in and get ready for a bumpy ride. This may take a while...
June 20th, 2003. I was in labor. This was my third pregnancy and I was two days past my due date. The contractions began around eight in the morning and by the time the two-forty-five ferry was getting ready to leave, I knew we'd best be on it. We got my mom and step-mom to watch Blake and Ellie, packed my bag and left.
It had been a horrible pregnancy. Back pain so severe there were times I literally could not stand. Months spent not being able to sit up, only being able to lie down. Horrible panic attacks. I had only gained twelve pounds. You see, I was very sick with thyroid cancer and had no idea. I guess I just thought that I was older this time (all of 33) and my body wasn't handling the pregnancy that well.
Anyway, we got to the mainland around four and headed straight to the hospital. By this time, my contractions were every four to five minutes and were rather painful. We had already gone through the pre-admission process so we were ushered to the delivery room as soon as we got there. They checked me out and put me on the monitor and we waited. After about an hour, the doctor decided that these were just "false" labor contractions. They kicked us out.
I was beyond mad. I ranted and raved to my poor hubby as I waddled out of the hospital to get to the car. Not real labor?! Are you freakin' kidding me? Let's face it, this wasn't my first time at the rodeo. This was my third pregnancy and I was over due and you are going to tell me with a straight face that this wasn't labor? Screw you!
Remember my cousin, Heather, who I mentioned in a previous post? She was going to be in the labor/delivery room with my hubby and me. Heather got on the four-thirty ferry with plans to meet us at the hospital. We met her on the way out. We decided that we had better get a hotel room somewhere and that it should probably be relatively close to the hospital. After getting the KFC that I had demanded, we checked into this little dive that made you wonder how many people had committed suicide there.
I spent a very uncomfortable night with my "false" labor pains and by morning we headed back to the hospital. Same exact routine with the same exact outcome. Yep. Even though by now there was (sorry to get graphic here) blood spotting and quite painful contractions, I was "not in labor".
What a bunch of A**holes!!
Off we went. I was embarrassed and in pain but managed to let them know just how I felt by saying rather loudly in the hallway upon our departure, "Don't worry. I won't be back until I see the G-damn head poking out!". I know, I'm a classy broad.
Now, I am a hardcore Harry Potter fan and by now it was Saturday, June 21st; the release date of the fifth book. Holy crap, we had to go get it! Picture if you will a very pregnant woman who was in labor roaming through bookstores in hot pursuit of Harry Potter. I must have been a sight. Stopping every few minutes to wait out my "non-labor" pains and then move on in my quest. I didn't care. I was in too much pain and too pissed off to give two hoots about what anybody might be thinking of me. And yes, I got the book.
Because we honestly didn't believe that the hospital would ever admit me, we had Heather's hubby bring our four (Heather's two boys and our two girls) kids over to swim in the pool (we switched hotels) and go to the movies. Yes, I was ready to take my kids to the movies while in labor. We Maine girls are tough! However, by the time they all met us on the mainland, and as it turned out, I was in too much pain so my hubby and his brother took all the kids to the movies while Heather and I stayed at the hotel.
After the movies the guys took the kids to the pool and after about a half hour I told Charlie we needed to go. NOW! At this point it was about seven-thirty in the evening and Heather had gone off to get everyone some dinner. My brother-in-law stayed with the kids and we were off.
There was no turning me away now so I got into the delivery room and waited for the doc. She came in a few minutes later, confirmed that I was in labor (duh!) and proceeded to break my water. For those of you who have never had this done let me tell you about this most lovely little procedure.
The doc gets what looks like a monstrous crochet hook, inserts it up into the (well, you know) and grabs the bag of water with it and pulls (at least that is what it feels like)...not painful but not pleasant. Pretty gross really...but effective in speeding up the labor process. I went from four cm dilation to eight in about an hour. By this point Heather had gotten there and I was in some serious, gut wrenching, mind bending, ass kicking pain. So now I get a little help from some kind of miracle drug right? Wrong! I was moving to fast in my labor and there wasn't time. Well isn't that just precious?!
Hold on...there's a problem. There's muconium staining in the amniotic fluid signaling that the baby was in distress. I was told that I could not push, no matter how badly I may want to, until the pediatrician got there. Then we were told we would not be able to hold the baby right away. She would be given to the pediatrician to have her lungs suctioned. I was in so much pain at this point that I really don't think I was comprehending what they were saying.
What happened next is still kind of a blur to me. The doctor had lost the baby's heartbeat. It had just stopped. It felt like the air during a bad thunderstorm. You know, that kind of tense electricity where everybody and everything is sort of buzzing? Anyway, the doc told me there was no more time to wait and I had to push the baby out right now. It was like something out of a movie. Just as little Tessie arrived into the world, the pediatrician came flying into the room, grabbed her from the OB/GYN and took her to the little warming table that they use for newborns.
I was so relieved to be out of that excruciating pain but I knew something was very wrong. There was no cry. No sign that a new little life had entered this world other than three nurses and the pediatrician surrounding that little table she was on. Also, there was that feeling in the air still. And then I got it...I don't think they wanted me to see what they were doing to her. I caught a glimpse of her little face and knew there was no way that she was breathing. Breathing babies just did not look like that. I screamed at the doctor, "Is she breathing? Why isn't she crying?"
Thank God for Dr. Stephenson. He very calmly told me they were trying to keep her from crying and moving around because they needed to get her breathing better. I watched, almost from above my body, as he intubated my baby and started to force air into her lungs. And he was singing to her and cooing as he is doing this, "Come on, love...you can do it...come on..". They got her stabilized and whisked her off to the nursery.
We were left to wait. What had just happened? Things like this didn't happen to me, they happened to other people. After about a half an hour the OB/GYN came back in the room and was CRYING. Oh God. She died. My baby died. I lost it. And poor Heather almost passed out. But the doctor just wanted to try to help me understand how this had all gone so wrong. The baby was still holding her own. And after about two hours Dr. Stephenson came in and sat on the side of my bed.
He told me that the NICU team from Portland were coming to get her and she would be transferred to Maine Medical Center's Barbara Bush Childrens Wing. They had done a number of blood tests to try to determine why she was struggling so much but nothing showed up. Then he asked me if I had any questions for him. "No." He looked at me and said "yes, you do." I stubbornly clung to "no, I don't". He inched a little closer to me and said, "you want to know if your baby is going to die." And he was, of course, right. I just didn't dare to ask for fear of his answer. "Yes" I sobbed. He told me that, no, she was not going to die but that she needed some extra help that this hospital just couldn't provide.
Still, we had no real answers as to what was really wrong. But Dr. Stephenson said it was time to go to the nursery and see Tessie. I said I could walk but he insisted on a wheelchair for me saying that seeing her hooked up to a respirator along with all of the IV lines and other monitors on her would be too much and I might faint. Enough said. I got in the wheelchair . Heather thought this should be a moment for just Charlie and me but I insisted she come to. After all, she was in the heat of the battle for this kid's life just like us at this point.
We got into the nursery, Dr.Stephenson tinkered with a couple of her wires and checked the respirator and then busied himself near us but far enough away to let us have a bit of privacy. I was afraid to reach in to the incubator to touch her. I honestly had no idea what to do. I sat frozen in a haze of fear and disbelief. I think Charlie and Heather felt the exact same way. Dr. Stephenson must have noticed because he came up to me and very kindly said, "Touch her. She needs to feel your touch." That broke my paralysis. My baby needed me. I reached in and leaned as far as I could near the plexiglass and said, "Mama loves you so much. I need you baby. Mama needs you to breathe for her. You can do it. Breathe for mama."
There is a very primitive connection between a mother and her baby that nothing else can touch. I have seen it and felt it with my other two girls, and this was no exception. Little Tessie knew my voice and took strength from it. I do believe that because all of a sudden, instead of the respirator doing all the work, Tessie started to work the respirator. She really started breathing on her own. Even Dr. Stephenson noticed the change on the machine and came over. We stayed for a bit but they had more they needed to do to get ready for the NICU team that was due to arrive. I was taken to a room, told Heather to go to the hotel to be with the kids when they woke up and to try to help her husband explain why there wouldn't be a baby for them to go visit the next day. My hubby followed the ambulance to Portland because there was no way that we were going to leave Tessie all alone, possibly fighting for her life, without someone who loved her. I had to stay behind.
It has got to be among the top ten worst experiences that you can go through. I had just given birth and was supposed to now be proudly and joyfully holding my baby. Instead, I was alone in the maternity ward of the hospital. No baby. No husband. Just me and the Polaroid of Tessie that the neonatal specialist took of her before they left.
I laid in the hospital bed and prayed for her to 'be okay'. Just don't die became my mantra. Over and over again I said it while clutching her photo. I promised that no matter what might be wrong, I would love her and care for her...just don't die.
Sometime in the night I began to bleed. Very heavily. I called the nurse and by the time she got to my room I was looking like something out of a bad scary movie. The nurse actually screamed when she opened the door and saw me. Three other nurses came running and they helped get me to the bathroom while they called someone to come clean up the room. They eventually got me back into bed, now hooked up to an IV to try to stop the bleeding. Didn't work. About an hour later the same thing happened again. This time they gave me a heavy duty shot of some drug to stop it. Thankfully it worked because the next step was surgery.
By the morning, my blood count was so low, they regretfully told me I couldn't leave to go to Portland to be with Tess and Charlie. I needed at least one more full day and night on bed rest. So my family came and everyone tried to act like this was normal. It was awful. I absolutely cannot stand fake cheeriness. But what else could they do? Tell me I looked like hell and that they were as scared as me?
I spent all that day, after my family left, reading the Harry Potter book that I had wanted so badly. I read the whole damn thing. I didn't want to eat or sleep...that might leave me some time to think about how bad things were. So I escaped into the world of Magic and Wizardry. The only times I actually stopped reading were when Maine Medical or Charlie would call and give me an update on Tessie.
On Monday I was allowed to leave. Charlie came and got me and took me to finally see my baby. The NICU was so intimidating. Scary noises, crying parents, tiny, frail, sick little babies. What was I doing here? And then I saw her. They had removed all of her equipment except an IV that they had to put in her head because all of her other veins had been blown from blood draws and IV's.
I sat in the rocking chair and they put her in my arms. I wish I could tell you that it was instant bonding. It wasn't. She felt like a stranger to me and the guilt of that feeling was overwhelming. I had to have Charlie take her. I was a mess. I have since talked to other parents of children with special needs and many of them told me of similar experiences holding their babies for the first time. At least it wasn't just me and the feeling went completely away once I got her out of the NICU and it was just us.
There are many facets to this story that, believe it or not, I still haven't told in this post. Not because I am trying to keep them secret...simply because it comes to me in flashes and it would take forever to write down EVERYTHING that transpired over those four days.
There is one moment during those days that I think about a lot. As we were getting ready to take Tessie home, we were getting her dressed and I was throwing out last minute questions to the pediatrician. The last thing I asked her was, "So I just treat her like a normal baby, right?"
The pediatrician looked at me and said, "She IS a normal baby.", and in that place in your heart that only you will ever know, I thought, "yeah, right."
And so our journey with The Toots began...