Slightly Insane Mom

"All mothers are slightly insane." –J.D. Salinger
February 13th, 2017

To Mischief, on the Occasion of your Fourth Birthday

Dear Mischief,

When your brother and sister were born, I diligently wrote out their “birth stories”–the epic tales of woe and womanhood that defined me as Mother. They were easy to write and I derived a lot of pleasure from them. But when you were born, it was different. One year, passed, then two, three. I couldn’t talk about your birth. Sure, I could tell people the basic details, but to describe what it was like to be there? The words just wouldn’t come.

In ten years, you may read this and think I’m tragically lame, but I cried on the way to our front door today after dropping you off at preschool. The idea that you’re off in the world without me for 2.5 hours on your birthday seems almost unbearable. I cried because I think I’m finally ready to tell you how you were born.

The first thing you need to know is that I had a rare genetic condition that affects less than 1% of the pregnant population. This condition is called ICP, short for Intrahepatic Cholestasis of Pregnancy. The details are unimportant, but basically, it makes a pregnant mother’s liver go nuts and attack the baby. Long and short of it is, you (and to a lesser extent, I) were in danger from the second I was diagnosed at 31 weeks pregnant.

After my diagnosis, things went into overdrive. For the next three weeks, I saw my Obstetrician weekly, a Maternal Fetal Medicine specialist weekly, and twice a week I went to the hospital for ultrasounds and nonstress tests (and no, I’ve never understood the name of that test. I was stressed, you were stressed. Shouldn’t it be a stress test?). You became a lazy baby, rarely moving. During the nonstress tests, the nurses would make me move from side to side, drink juice, jiggle my belly, all in the hopes of getting you to respond. I got steroid shots in my posterior to help your lungs develop. I scheduled an elective c-section for 36 weeks. The doctors didn’t think you would survive an induction, so we chose the safest route. But you had other plans.

At 34 weeks, I was lying in bed, beached whale style, lamenting to Daddy that I just had a bad feeling about things. I felt guilty. My liver, MY liver, was causing all of this stress on you. My own body, the thing that was supposed to be your safe harbor until you came into the world, was pushing you out into stormy seas. The guilt was immense.

At around 7:30 you stopped moving. At 11:30 we went to the hospital, where they hooked me up to the monitors and called my doctor. I spent eight hours not feeling you move, and watching the monitors for signs that you were still with me. Your heart rate would be steady, then suddenly drop. Back up, steady, drop. Over and over again for eight hours. My doctor came in at 7:30 and said, “The baby has to come out now.” I called Grandma M and Grandpa B, and Daddy called Grandma L. We asked them to pray. I messaged my friend LA and told her what was happening, and asked her if she would ask our friends to pray. I’m not sure I even believe in God, but at that point I needed all the help I could get.

They wheeled me back toward the operating room, and at that point they split us up–I was wheeled into the OR, and Daddy was taken to put on a sterile gown. They kept Daddy out of the room while they put the spinal in my back, and oh, how I wish he were there. Not for the spinal. I had had epidurals before. I knew what to expect. They had me sit up and bend forward over my giant belly. A nurse held me while the doctor placed the spinal. That part was fine. But as this was going on, another nurse said, “I can’t find the heartbeat.” And time stopped. There was no pain in my back. There were no bright operating lights. There were no people bustling around. It was just me and the nameless nurse, who held me and smoothed my hair while I sobbed on her shoulder over my baby who was gone. Because at that point I felt so sure I had lost you. So sure I was no longer your port in the storm. I held onto one speck of hope, one tiny bit, so that I could look positive when Daddy came back in.

And so I tried. I told him I was ready. I told him I was excited to meet our baby.

The doctors cut me open and pulled you out with brutal speed. I saw a brief flash of your bluish-purple body as you were quickly ushered over to a bed and half a dozen doctors and nurses surrounded you. After a minute, I heard the most
beautiful sound I will ever┬áhear–your first cry. Tiny, like a new kitten. They let Daddy hold you briefly so I could see you, and I got to touch your perfect face and hold your perfect hand, and then you were gone, whisked away to the NICU.

It took another 12 hours before I could even sit up to be able to be wheeled to the NICU to visit you. You were so tiny and precious, and hooked up to more machines and instruments than I knew existed for tiny babies. So many moms I’ve seen talk about how disappointed they were that they didn’t get to hold their baby immediately after birth. I had to wait 12 hours to see my baby, and I got to touch you through a hole in the incubator wall. Life lesson: recognize your blessings when they come. I touched you for a moment, then swooned, the stress of the surgery and the difficulty of sitting upright after major surgery proving just too much for me. I wouldn’t see you again until the following morning.

The next two weeks were a lot of hard work, Mischief. Mommy and Daddy took turns going to the hospital to see you, and staying at home to take care of Sunshine and Snowflake. We learned the special ways to hold you and feed you, such a tiny, weak little creature you were. And you spent two weeks hooked up to tubes and machines to make you well enough to come home with us, which you finally did at your gestational age of 36 weeks. (To this day, Mischief, I take your age and subtract 6 weeks to figure out how old you “really” are. I think I’ll probably be doing that when you’re in college.)

And then you came home. Mommy healed up, with no lasting effects from the ICP. You have some issues. You walk a little goofy, and your speech was delayed, and you have some sensory processing problems. You just got glasses because your eyes don’t focus well, but darned if you aren’t the cutest thing ever with them on.

So there’s your story, my love. Only four years late. If you ever doubt how much Mommy loves you, just read this. You’ll know, my son.