Baby Sister turned one on Saturday. In honor of her birth, I am taking this month to tell the story of the wild way she came into the world and our family. Please click here to read the first part of the story.
Just over a day after I arrived at the Labor and Delivery floor, I “graduated” to the High Risk Maternity Unit where I would spend most of the next 19 nights.
The unit was run by a cadre of smart, efficient, gentle nurses who became friends to me during my weeks in their charge. It was an intensely female place, where women came to bring their babies safely into the world, assisted and cared for, just as they have been throughout history, by other women.
There was Annette with whom I chatted about Jane Austen novels and movie adaptations.
And Nichole who stockpiled animal crackers to give to my boys when they visited.
And Sharon who always found a spot on my left arm for my IV so that I could write with my right one.
And Beth who held my hand that one night when everything suddenly felt like a little too much.
It was my job, I knew, to keep my baby inside as long as I could. But how I should do that, no one knew for sure. So I lay in a hospital bed, an IV in my arm, a monitor on my belly, the thump-thump-thump of my daughter’s heartbeat in my ear.
Watchful waiting, the doctors called it. They watched me, watched the staccato lines my daughter’s heartbeat drew across their computer screen. And I waited.
Every few days the bleeding would return – never as serious as it was the day we rushed from home to the hospital, but enough for my condition to be classified a “chronic abruption” and for me to earn a permanent bed in the hospital until my baby arrived.
And one day my daughter’s heart rate dropped so low in response to my contractions that the doctors rushed me back down to Labor and Delivery, worried about umbilical cord compression and sure that I would have to deliver right away. Her heart rate normalized, though, and, after another nervous-making night, I moved back upstairs.
Despite these occasional breaks in the routine, my time in the hospital was filled with this routine of watchful waiting.
I watched my plans for these weeks of nesting dissolve into a new schedule of visiting hours and babysitters.
I watched the repairmen outside my window. Protected from the January chill by nothing more than stocking caps, coveralls, and the rickety elevator that raised and lowered them along the outside of the building, the two men were my companions during my weeks of waiting.
I watched as the nurses whisked my fellow patients to the delivery room, these other women’s stays on our floor punctuated by squeaking clogs on the tile floor.
I watched the parade of visitors that flooded in after the workday and trickled out again after dinner time. I watched my sons arrive with them, looking at me in confusion, opening and closing the countless cabinets in my room, trying to make sense of this foreign land their mom now inhabited.
But here’s the thing about being in the hospital on bed rest: it’s not really so, well, restful. Between monitors beeping, nurses coming in and out to check vitals and dispense medication, five daily blood tests (man, I don’t miss gestational diabetes), and the general hullaballoo of hospital life, I didn’t sleep more than a couple of hours straight for the whole time I was there.
Good practice, I suppose, for life with a newborn.
So, after nearly three weeks of this watchful waiting, when my doctor decided that, all things considered, it was time to schedule an amniocentesis the next day and a likely c-section immediately afterward, I was ready.
I was so ready, I called my husband to tell him the news and then fired off an e-mail to family and friends.
And then, minutes after my doctor walked out of my room, in the middle of writing another e-mail, my water broke.