Thank you all for your encouragement on my last post.
It feels good to be blogging again but it’s scary, too. I’m more sensitive and self-conscious than I’ve ever been before and when it comes to our son – and his story – I feel especially vulnerable; not just at what others will think of him/me but of what he would think, if he were to read all this one day.
This has been one of the biggest sticking points with me sharing his story.
How do I tell it well?
I mean honestly, it feels impossible to summarize. His story is so grand. It’s so long and so complex for two short years of life; it’s full of these amazing miraculous feats (that as a little 1 lb-er he pulled off all his own in the NICU) and then there’s all the stuff we’re still dealing with today — his medical challenges and many unknowns about his future.
It’s a lot.
I tried writing about it several times, but I’ve been all over the place: start with where we are now? start with his birth or his homecoming? Starting has been the hardest part.
Seriously, I mean, where in the world do I begin?
I mulled it over in my mind: I knew I wanted to share his story on this blog – with our friends and family – the whole thing, in all it’s glory, but, I kept coming back to where to begin.
Then suddenly, one day, like a gem falling from the sky, I found this quote by Ernest Hemingway:
“All you have to do is write one true sentence. Write the truest sentence that you know.”
So, that, friends is what I did, and the rest flowed from there.
This is part one of a series that’s shaping up to be about six parts. I appreciate you being here and sharing in this story with us; getting to know our boy and cheering him on. I am so lucky his story is also mine.
The day JR was born my entire world turned upside down.
Everything outside of the hospital came to a screeching halt. I remember telling a friend “nothing will ever be the same again.” Being a mother, she nodded in agreement and smiled, but truth was I was talking about this in the most ominous way. Something deep in my gut told me things would never be “OK” or “normal” and certainly not “the same” again.
Two years later I can see a half-truth there: things will never be the same again, but my life has been made better; grander; richer with the blessing of this child — even if he did come 16 weeks too soon.
Before I say anymore I should admit that I haven’t shared JR’s birth story with a lot of people. When he was still in the hospital – early on – I couldn’t tell the story without a lot of tears. Then, once I got a decent, condensed version down, I’d try telling it but I remember feeling completed drained afterward; sad; cheated. Then, the rumors started flying – he was smaller than the palm of your hand! My water broke in the waiting area! – stuff that was flat-out untrue and that kind of annoyed me so, I stopped sharing.
But here we are, many moons later and I’m ready to tell our story; to own our story. I’m actually really proud of how everything happened. JR was an incredibly strong and resilient baby from the very beginning and Aaron was incredibly brave and strong for us all when it happened.
It was June 10th – my mom’s birthday! – and I was working from home. I’d spent the day preparing a website set to launch launch July 1. When my mom showed up about 4pm for some girl time, I told her I wasn’t feeling my best. I’d done CrossFit the day before and best I could describe it, I felt achy. I didn’t think anything was wrong but, I know now something was.
We went to the mall and had a typical afternoon — we grabbed Starbucks and went for pedicures. Then we went to the Apple store — I convinced my mom to treat herself to an iPad mini and then about 8 o’clock we headed to meet Aaron for dinner.
When we got to the restaurant, I said something like, “I don’t want to scare you guys but I really don’t feel that great.” My mom kept making a face like, labor? But it was so ridiculous to even entertain such an idea at that time. Aaron changed the subject, suggesting we splurge on dessert. Mmm, I thought: that’ll make any pregnant lady feel better! So, we each ordered something and as you can see from the photo below, I had a sampling around the table. We really treated ourselves – each getting a dessert. It’s kind of weird to look back and see how happy and carefree we were, completely oblivious to the freight train ahead.
This photo was taken about 3 hours before JR came.
We left dinner around 9pm and since I wasn’t feeling better, I started googling “cramps and pressure” and “24 weeks.”
What I saw scared me: preterm labor, but at that time I didn’t think it was possible. In fact, we had just looked into this because I was worried about my sister-in-law’s wedding, slated for September, JR’s birth month. We had just Googled it a few nights prior and came across a statistic that read preterm labor happened to 12% of women. Psft, we thought, as we laughed and kicked our feet up for bed — “nothing to worry about!” <<– The concern at that time was about labor at 38 weeks, not 24.
Well, when we got home I was eager to help my mom setup her iPad but I needed to lay down at this point; I really wasn’t feeling better.
As I laid there, in the stillness and darkness of my bedroom, I got the feeling something was definitely wrong.
First realization: this is painful.
This isn’t kicks, flutters or round ligament pain. This is rhythmic. This is wrong.
Looking back on it, I really hesitated to go to the ER. I was working for the hospital at that time and in fact, involved in a big video project about a bunch of ER docs; I was scared I might run into someone I knew! But, reservations aside, we decided it was better to be safe than sorry.
We hopped in the car close to 11pm and I’ll never forget watching the clock on the way there: 11:02; 11:06; 11:10; the pain was like a rocking ship, back and forth, back and forth.
I started to tell Aaron how bad it would be if the baby came this soon — I’d heard of someone — and he cut me off– don’t think like that.Everything is fine.
When I stepped into the ER, the front desk lady took one look at me before tapping a red button under the counter. That can’t be good. A nurse came for me, but she didn’t say much. She led us around the corner and up the elevator to Labor & Delivery; I’d never been here before.
It was really quiet in the hospital; kind of ominous and we didn’t have any small talk along the way. At the triage desk, as I began to describe my symptoms, panic set in and I started to tear up. The pain was increasing and I needed to sit down.
They promptly took me to a room, I changed into a hospital gown and they setup a fetal heart rate monitor. The nurse was so great. She was calm, maneuvering my body side to side, trying to catch a beat.
At this point, the resident did a quick exam (awkward) and after, I went into the restroom. I saw some spotting but I was still oblivious – or perhaps I was just distracted by the onslaught of intense contractions. They were so painful and becoming more frequent. When I laid back in the bed I started to cry and curl up with each one. The nurse put an oxygen mask on me and next thing I know, one of the doctors comes in and says I’m fully dilated — my cervix was bulging — “you’re in labor.”
I can remember his face so vividly, even through the fog of the oxygen mask but I can’t remember those words registering: “you’re in labor.” It was like my brain pushed that away, refusing to accept it. Aaron walked out of the room to call my mom and his. He wasn’t gone a minute – it was quick. I remember because as soon as he walked back in, my water broke. The nurse took action immediately, pulled up the handles and unhinged the bed from the wall. She threw a blue suit over me which Aaron caught it in the air.
“Suit up” she said, “We were headed to the OR.”
The hallway was dark but the lights in the OR were blinding. I remember seeing the shadows of a few people position at the base of me. I know I was screaming and crying but I don’t remember exactly what I was feeling. The nurse was holding my legs back, telling me to push; be strong, she said; do it for your baby.
I gave a few pushes (maybe 3 or 4), but it was like I had no energy. I was overwhelmed and in excruciating pain. Aaron was right by my head. I remember turning to him and saying something like, “I can’t do this.” And it’s one of my fondest memories looking back: it was like whole room got dark and quiet and I remember his eyes. He was so calm. So strong. So sure.
He said, “You just have to do this one thing, right now.”
Literally in that same second, they hit me with one breath of nitrous oxide and I remember pushing as hard as I could; I felt JR slip out and the room went silent.
I thought I saw him. I saw something. Something small, wrapped in a blanket was whisked out of the room. I kept thinking it was a bird; maybe I heard a sound? I had no idea what was happening, it hadn’t even registered what all this meant. Nobody said anything. I just remember waking up in a Labor & Delivery room. It was dark and now my mom and Aaron’s mom were there; everyone was sitting around my bed.
First, the OB appeared. He said he thought I had a placenta abruption based on what he saw during the labor. He wished me luck and said the NICU fellow would be down to tell us about our son.
When the fellow walked in – a young woman I’ve come to truly love and admire. Before she said anything she asked if we had a name.
We’d tossed around a few ideas but at that point the only thing we liked was “JR” an abbreviation of my grandfather’s name (James) and Aaron’s father’s name (Rex).
I was eager — “JR” — I said. I remember feeling hopeful.
Hyung Young spoke very slowly. She was calm but serious. I can’t remember her exact words but every point was made slowly, with precision to ensure we understood her. There were a laundry list of concerns beginning with JR’s breathing capability and the development of his lungs (or lack thereof); she may have mentioned the survival rate but I don’t remember that. She said something about a brain bleed. Blood transfusions. Ventilation. Bilirubin lights.
Bottom line: they would be doing everything they could to keep JR alive.
She asked if I had any questions.
I said, “When can I see him?”
Next thing I remember is being wheeled into the NICU – an automatic double door. There were all these people around. Bright lights. I can’t imagine the shock/confusion on my face.
They took us to JR’s isolette and I immediately started cried.
I couldn’t believe my eyes. I felt weak.
JR was bruised. Very badly. He came out face first so his whole face was swollen and bruised. His eyes were fused shut (they don’t typically open until 27 weeks). There was blood on the blankets around him and a balloon thing hooked to a plastic pipe going in his mouth. He was dark and small. He wasn’t moving.
Hy-hung reappeared with paperwork for me to sign — the blood transfusions. I remember feeling light headed and telling her I think I needed to sit down.
Meanwhile, one of the NICU nurses (Amy – another soon-to-be favorite) took my phone and snapped a hundred photos of JR. Close-ups of his feet and hands and face. It was like an insurance, you know? I guess in case he didn’t make it?
Those pictures would probably be treasures to us if JR hadn’t made it but he did and thus, now, looking at them is very hard. I’ve decided not to share them all here. They’re too graphic. But the images below are from those early day and our new life as we would come to know it: in the NICU.
When Aaron and I returned to the Labor & Delivery room we held each other and cried. What we had just been through: it was terrifying. And what was happening now? Even worse. We literally balled ya’ll. It was just this raw release of our hopes and dreams; it was like a farewell to our life as we’d known it before.
Aaron crawled in the hospital bed with me and we tried to get some sleep but of course, I couldn’t.
I sat in the dark watching the clock, praying with every passing hour that our son would survive. Then, early, like 4am, I put some clothes on and headed back to the NICU.
I hope to share some stories from the NICU next week. JR spent 5 months there and it became our home away from home. This would also mark the scariest 5 months of my life. We never knew if JR would make it home. It was like the best and worst place all in one: we didn’t want to be there but our boy was there.
Thank you for reading about JR’s early arrival. In my mind, he was and always will be the bravest little boy that ever was. <3