This pregnancy had been a surprise. Sid and I knew we weren’t ready to make the choice not to have any more children, so we hadn’t done anything permanent to that end. We were being careful not to get pregnant, we were aware it could happen, and from time to time one of us would remark something to the effect of, “Can you imagine if we got pregnant? That would be soooooo crazy.” Ha ha!
I am always ready for my period to start about a week before it’s supposed to. So in November of 2012, I was anticipating its arrival, yet too busy to worry about whether or not it would start, “It will be here soon enough,” I’d tell myself. I had a busy weekend to keep my mind off of that stirring possibility, with my niece’s birthday party closing it out on Sunday evening, after that I’d think about my late period. And so Monday morning I wanted to take a test to ease my mind so that I could rightly start the homeschool week with a clear mind ready to focus on academics.
Positive, there it was. I am not one to practice patience when my family, my best friends, are just in the other room. I ran into the bedroom where they were convened, threw myself down on the bed and said, “SID! LOOK!” Wow. Wow. Wow. The kids were really excited, I was in shock and Sid got quiet.
We decided to get an ultrasound to find out the gender, just to try to simplify and organize this complicated and haphazard event. We found out we were having another boy. So awesome! My emotions were still regularly swaying between overwhelming joy and gratitude that I would get to have another baby, and anxiety and spinning at the thought of keeping up with all I had going on plus the care of a fifth child.
We got to go to Maui when I was 26 weeks along and we stayed there for 2 mostly lovely weeks. Our second night there brought challenges for me in the form of stabbing abdominal pain. Not like contractions, with their duller, cramping squeeze. Passing gas and pooping brought no relief and in the middle of the night I wondered if I should go to an E.R. Sid gave me an incredible massage and I was finally able to relax. The pain was sincerely excruciating. I slept a tiny while and when I awoke, still much too early to arise, I noticed I was having contractions. I finally texted my midwife.
I recovered fine after following her advice and hydrating and staying in bed. I was disappointed to miss out on the blowhole, but I knew what I needed to do for baby and I. I surely did not want to go into labor.
We enjoyed the rest of our trip so much.
In my 33rd week both of my daughters would perform in a ballet recital. That’s what seemed to bring on my second health challenge. The day after the second recital I again had abdominal pain, this time it seemed to me more like muscle strain, but this time I also had a low-grade fever. I felt pretty bad so I stayed in bed for a day and watched TV with the kids while Sid went to work. Again I recovered.
My final health challenge came when I was 36 weeks and extended to the day I became 37 weeks. Monday we went to Costco and happened to include a new thermometer in our purchase. When we got home I wanted to test it out and in doing so found I had a low-grade fever again. So I went to bed.
By that night I felt really bad, my fever had risen, I was sick. The next day I was worse and a bad headache and neck ache accompanied my fever. My midwife and I concluded I had a flu. I tried to fend it off with oscillococcinum, but to no avail. My head and neck continued to hurt badly, I had no appetite, a fever and could barely sleep. I was thankful I wasn’t closer to my due date, I thought I’d have at least a week to recover before facing labor.
Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday I was still very sick. My head and neck aches were what had kept me awake the prior nights, I wanted to sleep and so Wednesday night I planned to take acetaminophen. As soon as it kicked in I got hot flash-hot. I was sweating a lot, barely dressed with windows open and the ceiling fan on. It took about 2 hours before I started to feel a little cooler. As soon as I did, I got into bed, thankful that my head and neck were feeling okay and I fell asleep. Not long after I woke up, chilled. Next thing I knew I was freezing and shivering. I tried to go back to sleep, but my shivering became almost convulsive. I woke Sid and asked him to close the windows and get me extra blankets. He had five blankets on me and then laid himself over that on me and I still shivered. I needed to pee, but dreaded leaving the blankets to the painful freeze I would feel getting to the bathroom and back, so I held it. Sid became really concerned and got on his computer looking for info about my condition. He found an article describing acetaminophen’s effect on pregnant and menopausal women and it was exactly what I suffered. Finally, my body normalized, I could only hope that in all the hypothalamic craziness my fever had broken.
It hadn’t. Thursday I was still fevering and feeling downright shitty. I couldn’t believe it, I had never, ever been that sick for that long in my whole life. My midwife offered to come, but was scheduled to come check on me Friday morning anyway so I waited it out all day Thursday.
Friday morning came, I hadn’t slept much and was awake off and on from 8 am with mild contractions. Around 9 they were becoming painful so I called my midwife. I did just as she suggested – took 2 krill oil capliques, drank a tall glass of coconut water and got into an Epsom salt bath. The contractions stalled and I relaxed in the bath dozing off here and there. I was so insanely exhausted, and did I mention I still had a fever? ha ha, ugh.
The contractions became painful in the bath again and so I got out. My midwife came at 10:30 and started to listen to the baby during my contractions and watch me. She also needed to check me for dilation, etc. Well, I was dilated to 5 cm and my water bag was bulging, “Jenn, we’re havin’ a baby today.” She told me. The kids overheard and were thrilled. I was shocked, excited, and so very, very exhausted. I ate some toast and took an ibuprofen to bring my fever down.
She continued to listen to the baby during my contractions and she was detecting a deceleration in his heart rate with most of them, but it recovered quickly. She notified me that she wasn’t concerned yet, but that I may need to go to the hospital if we got to a place where his heart rate wasn’t rebounding so well. Now that I knew I was in actual labor, I began to use my breathing and visualization to get ahead of my contractions and cope. They didn’t feel so painful anymore, but they were still strong.
Sid was filling the birth tub and Sue was making preparations in the kitchen. She told me to move around if I felt like it, I had been sitting on the bed until then. I thought it sounded good to move a bit, and so I got off the bed. As soon as I did that, my contractions became stronger and closer together. I made my way to the bathroom and the contractions came extremely close together, barely offering enough time between to put my hair up! In the bathroom, I couldn’t hold back, I moaned with a really strong contraction. Sue came quickly, knowing what that sound meant! She asked me if I wanted to have the baby right there, or get into the tub. I opted for the tub, but my contractions were still so close, she asked Sid to carry me to the tub.
He came and picked me up from my underarms, holding me up so that my feet barely touched the floor, and like this, I floated from my bathroom, down the hall, through the TV room, through the dining room and to the birth tub in our library! He also helped me in. The … water … felt … so … good. I continued to labor in there while Sue finished preparations in the kitchen and Lindsey arrived to assist her. With a contraction my water bag burst, and I immediately noticed meconium in it. I called to Sue, feeling like a little girl, “Suuue? My water bag broke and there’s meconium in it!” She came and told me it was time for the baby to come out and just to push and keep on pushing. I pushed with everything, which probably wasn’t much, given my condition, but my best was enough and his little head came out!
When I became aware that his head was out, I had a big giant thought in that very small moment – I was almost done; I was about to give birth to my fifth baby; to give birth for the last time; still three weeks away from my due date; it was about to be all over; I was about to meet my new baby and in a moment, I would be finished with my final pregnancy, that one that had surprised me so, that one that was hard and happy and so precious. And so I relaxed, like Sue instructed, until I had the strength to push again. The strength came and I pushed for the very, totally, last time, and Baby Neil was out, and as soon as Sue unwrapped his 3-times-wrapped umbilical cord, he was in my arms.
I was happy, and so, so tired. And I was in shock and so very exhausted. In the pictures of these precious moments, my eyes are dark and sleepy and kind of glazed over. And I appear to have been very concerned about Neil, furrowing my eyebrows staring intently at him.
When I got out of the tub and onto the couch to nurse, I was nodding out, catching my head and popping it back up as it fell. And honestly, it is difficult for me to recall much else from that day or the next couple of days as I recovered from everything.
And I am left with questions … Was my fever induced by my pregnancy? After my birth, my fever did not return. Was Neil’s cord wrapping responsible for his early birth? Sue said that when a baby is in distress like that, they can signal something somehow that causes birth to ensue. Did I have some other condition like preeclampsia, without the classical symptoms, and if so, did Neil’s cord and thus early arrival, possibly save my life? Or did my condition cause the early birth and save his life from possible strangulation in-utero? I do not know, and I’m okay with not knowing. I do know that I am so exceedingly grateful to be here, now.
Aside from the crazy birth, Neil had some health challenges early on and at times we thought he might not go on. His breathing was tricky, almost like at any moment it could stop. Too fast one minute, very slow and labored the next. The very day we got good news from a pediatrician that his lungs and heart sounded very strong, he nearly completely stopped eating and didn’t breastfeed strongly until about three days later. Also early on, his body temperature was normal when he was being held, but then would rise to fever when he was lying on the bed. My midwife had never heard of that, I kept thinking I was trippin’. Kangaroo care was no longer just a sweet enhancement to our bonding with our newborn (as with our prior newborns), it was absolutely necessary. I felt like Neil’s whole system would go out of whack when he was solitary. Skin-to-skin is such a completely perfect miracle, in that, the thing that feels so soothing to the parents in such an unstable and worrisome time, is also the very thing that stabilizes and sustains equilibrium and allows the continuing of vital development for our precious, fragile and vulnerable little babies. I’m so thankful at how well-known and embraced that wonderful principle is now.
Indeed, I am SO exceedingly grateful to be here, now, six months later. Neil is thriving and happy and so engaged. He loves to smile at anyone who has a bit of patience to catch his eye. His cuteness enchants every one of us in his family and there have been numerous exchanges he’s shared with his brothers and sisters that simply make me happier than anything else. Indy sometimes sings to him when he cries! I mean!