During my pregnancy, I made a promise to myself (and childless friends and family) that I would make every effort to spare the world “the labor story”. Everyone’s is different, everyone’s is hard. I know for the most part, mine was nothing that many, MANY women before me hadn’t gone through. However, ours may have had a slightly different ending.
On that Thursday night, after dinner and the arrival of a few friends and family at the hospital, I received medication that would begin to thin my cervix and the following morning the doctor would begin the Pitocin and break my water…just regular inducing procedures. All went as planned. Pitocin began at 6:00 am and Dr. B broke my water at about 8:00 am. Ready or not, this was happening.
I spent the day, Friday, August 18th, in labor . I received an epidural sometime around noon. With no baby and approaching a dilation of nine centimeters at 7:00 pm, Dr. B informed me that her shift was over and hospital policy was that she had to go home. Her colleague, Dr. S, would be taking over and would be coming by soon to discuss the possibility of going in to to get the baby via c-section if progress continued to be fruitless. It was scary, but I knew these things happened and are always a possibility. I was tired and shaking from the trauma my body could feel. My breathing was labored. But still, at this point, I really wasn’t too worried about myself or my baby. I knew he was coming somehow and somehow I was going to get him here.
At 9:30 pm, 27 hours in, something wasn’t right. It was obvious the baby wasn’t going to come this way, so at 10:30 pm, we moved to the operating room for an emergency c-section. My body was shutting down. My labored breathing worsened. My sweet husband asked if my mother could go in with me instead of him. I understood. He had spent the day pretty freaked out. My mother on the other hand, four children and ten grandchildren under her belt, was an old pro and could provide some solid support. So I kissed him goodbye and my mom scrubbed in for the OR. Here is where things get very foggy and a little scary for me.
With an oxygen mask on my face to help with my panic induced hyperventilation, I remember the curtain going up and my mom beside me. Then nothing. Blackness. I was out. Passed out or put under by the doctor, I don’t know. How long, I don’t know. All I know is that when I woke up, I was a momma. Just like that. Life is weird.
“Is that my baby?” I asked my mother, standing beside me as I came to. She was cradling a tiny creature with a head full of jet black hair in her arms. “This is your baby and Mimi got to hold him first!” she teased, gazing adoringly at grandchild number eleven. She brought him close to my face for a moment before I began to hyperventilate and pass out a second time. But it was enough time for me to see how beautiful his face was. A sweet little mouse face. Nine long months I had waited to meet him. Thirty-seven long years. Miles Christopher Cuellar was here. 5 lbs, 16 ounces.
My cloudy recollection of the next two hours doesn’t make for the smoothest story, unfortunately. The hour or so after any operation is a lot of room hopping ,waiting for follow ups, and dealing with different health care people who you aren’t quite sure who they are, asking you questions and poking on you. I am sad that I don’t recall with clarity those first few hours that I had with my sweet, new baby. Especially because that precious time I had with him, holding him, counting his fingers and toes, gazing at his sweet face with his proud dad on the bed beside me, came to an end so very soon.
Back in recovery, I can recall a few more cloudy details but what I mostly remember is a feeling. It was a strange feeling. I know now that it was mother’s intuition, but at the time I thought I was just being crazy. Looking at his face, in flashbacks or at the few pics that we took in those first couple of hours, you can tell, or see, or feel, that something just wasn’t right. He looked sad and unhappy. He was frowning. He looked like he was in pain. He was grunting a low hum-like noise. I thought it may be normal newborn stuff because what the hell did I know? And since no one had said anything about it I tried to shrug it off and rest easy. Lucky for me, my sister-in-law, Jamie, sensed something too.
“Take a nap, Mandy. I’ll watch him for a bit. You need some rest.” She said, cooing and lovingly jostling Miles around the room. I fought it a bit, but eventually got a little nap in. When I awoke, Jamie had an alarmed look on her face. “Mandy, I think he may be having trouble breathing.” she said, still bouncing him about, trying to get him to calm down. That hum-like grunt had gotten even louder as I slept. Right then, a nurse came in. Jamie relayed her concerns to her.
“Hmmm, you may be right.” The nurse said, listening to his chest with a stethoscope, a bit of a concerned look on her own face as well. “Let’s take him for a while and have a look at him.” She said, scooping him up and placing him back in his little baby cart. “Don’t worry, mom. I’m sure he’s fine, but we just need to be sure.” She trailed off as she wheeled my tiny, helpless, perfectly precious baby boy out the door.
But he wasn’t fine.
That was the last time I would see my baby in labor and delivery on the fourth floor of the hospital, the last time I would see him awake for weeks and the last time I would hold him, free of cords, wires and needles, for 67 long days. The click of that heavy recovery room door closing was the last of normal. This was only the beginning of our NICU nightmare.