I was shocked that Baby M cried immediately after being pulled out. She was only 25 weeks and one day gestation, and her lungs were not fully developed and she was in distress. I didn’t expect her to cry. At that point, I wasn’t entirely sure she was going to be born alive.
They whisked her off to a super-heated room attached to the operating room, and Peanut told me he could see her tiny foot waving in the air. I asked him to show me how big it was, and he estimated with his fingers something that was impossibly tiny, but turned out to be quite accurate (her foot at birth was smaller in length and width than my thumb).
Once she was stable, the same NICU doctor who had come to see me in the labor ward came out and got Peanut, who was allowed to go into that hot room and see our brand new baby. He took some pictures with his phone, and brought them back to show me as the doctors finished stitching and stapling me back together.
As I was wheeled into recovery, I started shaking uncontrollably, from nerves or the anesthesia or both. Shortly afterwards, Baby M was brought to my bedside in a rolling incubator. I could hardly see the infant inside; she was so covered with wires and tubes. Peanut went with them to the NICU, and I was left all alone.
After a c-section, women generally stay in recovery for about two hours, being watched to make sure that bleeding subsides and that they’re okay as the anesthesia wears off. I was there for four hours, because my bleeding wouldn’t stop. Once it was under control, the nurse took me over to the NICU and somehow fit my enormous gurney into her room next to her incubator. I was raised up to be at her level, and I put my hand inside her little artificial womb and cupped her head – my daughter.
The doctor came in and I peppered her with all the questions I could think of, except for the Big One: will she live? I simply couldn’t get the words out. I asked around it: How many babies her size do you see? What do you expect for her progress? What were her Apgar scores? How is she doing? As the doctor answered these questions, I realized that my Big One didn’t need to be asked – the doctor fully expected her to survive, and everything else was a matter of degrees: how much support she will need to breathe, how long it will be before she can eat, how immature are her lungs, brain, eyes, digestive system. Things that, if they aren’t too severe, can be supported with machines and repaired with surgery and overcome with determination.
I was taken back to my room in the post-partum unit and I was given the option of figuring out how to move from the gurney to my bed, or having to stand up later in the evening. I chose to move my entire body, inch by painful inch, about 18 inches to the left four hours after major abdominal surgery. This remains one of my proudest achievements of my life.
Waiting in my room was a breast pump, and a nurse came in to show me how to use it. We started making phone calls to people other than the immediate family we’d called while I was in recovery. I got something to eat, and finally slept a while. And we started to figure out what our lives would look like, now that our daughter was here.
To be continued…