This post is dedicated to my beautiful late mother, who loved her grandsons more than anything and who is still with me in their faces, their laughter, even their stubbornness. To us she will always feel as close as if she’s just in another room… We love you, Mom.
I found out I was pregnant on the morning of my mom’s surgery in June 2011. Had I not later miscarried, my due date would have been March 5, 2012—just 8 days after she died. Even now I still cannot process the idea of attending her funeral and giving birth within days of each other. But there remains a little voice that asks What If. What if I went into labor the week before, or even scheduled an induction, so she could have seen and held him? Would that have been better for her, or worse? I don’t know, because that’s not what happened. I can only find peace in remembering what DID happen.
The miscarriage—my third since 2008—left me anxious during the first few months of my subsequent pregnancy that fall, but it was the last twenty weeks that would prove to be the most stressful time period of my life. The baby I was carrying showed a soft marker for Down Syndrome, my mother lost her heartbreaking battle with peritoneal mesothelioma, my husband was commuting to Pittsburgh (2 hours each way), and our house was up for sale with at least two showings per week. Most of the work for the latter fell to me, which also caused me to pull/tear a lower abdominal muscle. I worried that all this stress would have negative effects on the baby.
My doctor reassured me that the baby was doing great; however, she did think the months of physical and emotional strain might lead to an earlier delivery than my previous two babies (Oliver at 41w5d and Andrew at 39w5d). “I’ll be very surprised if you go much past 38 weeks,” she told me. “Just don’t push yourself too hard. Ideally, we want to make it to at least 39 weeks for the baby’s sake.”
The baby was in no hurry, however, and I reached the 39-week mark with a mixture of relief and impatience. My doctor shook her head in disbelief as she checked for cervical dilation—of which there was NONE, much to my disappointment. “You have a VERY strong cervix,” she said. “It looks like this baby might be another stubborn one!”
I laughed. “Stubbornness runs in the family.”
Induction then became a strong possibility because we already knew this baby was not small, and she was concerned about a difficult labor if I went more than a few days past my June 30th due date (Oliver was 8lb 12oz at 41w5d, and the stress of his birth caused my oxygen saturation to drop, he had heart rate decelerations, etc). Since she usually planned inductions for Wednesdays, that meant… July fourth! And while that would certainly be fun in a way, I still hoped he would pick his own special day to arrive.
My due date passed quietly with just the usual on-and-off Braxton-Hicks contractions. Around 11:00 that night I decided to finish the second coat of paint on our closet door, because why not, right? I’d been taking walks, cleaning, and painting for months and it hadn’t worked any magic on my cervix thus far. The top half was easy to reach but it was physically impossible for me to bend over anymore, so I gently lowered myself to a sideways-sitting position on the floor, and—POP.
“Owwww… that one hurt,” I reproached the baby, thinking it was a kick. But suddenly my shorts felt wet and I realized: it wasn’t a kick. I went to the bathroom to make sure it wasn’t just a bladder malfunction (it wasn’t), then changed into clean clothes and went downstairs to tell George what happened. I wasn’t having any contractions yet though, so we decided to wait a while before calling the doctor or going to the hospital.
It was midnight, almost exactly an hour after my water partially broke, when the contractions began. They were only 5-6 minutes apart right off the bat, but I didn’t want to drag the kids out of bed—or make my dad drive an hour to our house to babysit them—in the middle of the night unless it was really Go Time. The baby was still moving around quite a bit and I wasn’t uncomfortable yet, so George slept next to me on the couch while I jotted down contraction times and waited. Around 4:30 a.m. I finally woke up George and called my dad (apologizing profusely to both of them) because I wanted to get ready in case things started moving faster.
Within half an hour I started to panic. “Maybe we should go. Let’s just go now,” I told George. He woke up Oliver and Andrew, dressed them, and put them in the car; I called my dad en route to the hospital and told him to meet us there. My contractions were only 3 minutes apart and becoming more painful at this point, so the 20-minute drive seemed to take forever. Hang on hang on hang on, I chanted in my head.
We pulled up to the hospital’s ER entrance at 5:30 a.m. “Looks like you’re having a baby today!” the nurse at the ER triage desk chirped excitedly as I waddled in with a tired smile. She directed George and the boys (who were now visibly anxious as they waved goodbye) to the waiting area, where they would meet my dad, while another nurse took me back into triage to check my vitals and review my history: Six pregnancies, three miscarriages, two living children. And now we can even the score, I thought gratefully.
Upon hearing I was having a third boy, the nurse turned to face me and smiled, “How lucky you are!” I was so used to replies of, “Oh, well… I guess you’ll have to try again for a girl!” that her genuine praise caught me off guard. “Thank you,” I smiled back, not even bothering to wipe the tears that started rolling down my face. I knew it was the truth, that no matter what else I had been through or what I had yet to face, I was very blessed.
An OB resident checked me and found I was 5+ cm dilated, and I was admitted to the labor & delivery unit at 6:30 a.m. By 7:30 a.m. I was 6+ cm and the contractions were getting really painful, so I asked for an epidural. I hoped the pain relief would allow my body to relax and speed up my dilation as it did during my labor with Andrew. Instead, my dilation had stopped progressing when they checked me an hour later. The resident discovered that my partial water break had actually been a “hind-water” break and the baby’s head had moved down and blocked the rest of the fluid, so she completed breaking my waters to get things moving again. When my doctor arrived at 9:30 a.m., I was still stuck at 6.5 cm. “I think we need just a wee bit of Pitocin, if that’s okay with you,” she said. “We’ll give you a very low dose, and I have a feeling it won’t take long.”
The nurse started the Pitocin drip shortly before 10 a.m.; at 10:30 a.m. she checked me again and promptly turned off the Pitocin. “You’re just about 10 cm!” she announced. “I’m going to let your doctor know, and then we can do some practice pushes!”
“Wow, okay!” I laughed.
I said a quick prayer for the baby’s safe delivery. George still did not know about the soft marker for Down Syndrome on the ultrasound; now that the moment of birth was so close, I started second-guessing my decision not to tell him. What if the shock makes it harder for him to accept the baby? Maybe it was selfish to keep it to myself. Maybe I should have helped HIM prepare, too. It was too late, though. For better or for worse, he did not know, but both of us would find out very soon.
My doctor checked me at 10:50 a.m. and I was fully dilated. She put on her gown and gloves immediately, determined that Andrew would remain the only baby whom she did not deliver in all her years of practice. It took about 15 minutes for the nurses to prepare the room. Then they turned on the bassinet warmer, and George took my hand with a smile. This was our last baby, the last time we would ever experience this wondrous event as parents-to-be. And we were ready.
They stopped me right at the start of the first practice push. “Melissa, your son is about to be born,” the doctor smiled as she held out her hands. I closed my eyes and it all rushed through me: a warm sunny day in October, a tiny flickering heart at the 7-week ultrasound, my mother’s hand holding the black and white photo, the smell of her lotion, the doctor telling me about the soft marker for Down Syndrome, my mom’s voice on the phone saying Thank you for my three beautiful boys, asking her approval for his name, the last time she opened her eyes and reached for my hand, the black and white photo in her casket, the baby kicking in my belly as I read a Bible passage at her funeral. And I cried because I had continued believing that it was all just a bad dream, that this moment could not possibly happen without her. Yet here we were, and my son needed me now, and I had to go on.
One push. He had dark hair. “Hold on, stop pushing!” the doctor and resident both exclaimed at once. There was a minute of intense, careful unwrapping of the cord from around his neck and suctioning of his tiny nose, then the okay to continue. A second push. Our third son rushed into the world at 11:11 a.m. and was placed on my chest, long and mottled-purple and crying. At first touch: immeasurable joy. “You’re here,” I whispered with delight. “I’m so glad you’re here.” Both sides of his face were bruised from his fast descent; the cord had been wrapped twice around his neck very tightly. He was still breathing too rapidly after they measured and assessed him, so they placed him on my chest underneath my gown to slow his breathing and help him “pink up” in color.
Then I studied his little face more closely, and I knew.
He did not have Down Syndrome.
For this, for his sake, I will always be grateful.
“Do you have a name picked out for him?” the nurse asked.
George and I had discussed several boy names after finding out the baby’s sex at the 20-week ultrasound, but nothing seemed quite right until I suggested a name that wasn’t on our list. I mentioned it to my mother, who really liked it, and I decided George and I wouldn’t tell anyone else until the baby was born. My mother died just a couple weeks after that; four months later the baby was in my arms, a continued connection between us, the last gift I was able to give to her. His name even meant gift of God.
“Yes, we do.” I smiled down at him. “Matthew.”
They closely monitored Matthew’s rapid, squeaky breathing for another hour (and even called up a NICU nurse to assess him re: possible consult for NICU admittance) until his respirations finally started slowing down to normal. Thankfully, the snuggling with me was all it took.
When George and I finally had the room to ourselves, I confessed to him about the ultrasound finding. He was upset that I carried the weight of that worry by myself for all those months, but he also understood my reasoning and shared my relief at Matthew’s healthy condition.
We listened to our baby boy’s breathing in grateful awe.
“We needed him,” I said quietly. “It was hard, but he’s worth it.”
“Yes, he is,” George agreed.
And for a few minutes we marveled at the strong little life whose promise held our family together through it all. We were complete at last.
Our three sons, 8/17/12. ♥