Thursday, January 22, 2015

939 days- (authored by: Laura Small)

939 days.  That’s the amount of time between when my 2 children were born.
 939 days that started with the worst day of my life and ended with the best day of my life.

On day 1, Jon sat by my side as I sipped a surprisingly delicious chocolate milkshake from the St. Vincent hospital kitchen as monitors beeped all around my ICU room, and he told me that they had to take my uterus.  As I dissolved into tears and leaned into his chest, all I had to say was, “Promise me we’ll adopt a Grace.” 

“I promise,” he said.  And so began a 939 day long journey.

Then surrogacy became a legitimate option.  Then Carin came into our lives.  Then our doctor at Oregon Reproductive Medicine told us on our initial consult, “There is no reason this shouldn’t work.  You’re not infertile, you’re just missing a part.”  Then on May 5, the nurse who wheeled Carin down to the car after the embryo transfer who asked Carin, “So how does it feel to be pregnant?” 

And so began 39 weeks that tested every nano-ounce (I totally just made up that word) of patience I thought I had.  The feeling of knowing your baby is tangible but untouchable is excruciating. 

But the days and the weeks and the months ticked by.  Many people suggested I keep a journal through the pregnancy to have as a keepsake and give to Baby Small when they were older.  I didn’t have to keep a journal because every day was exactly the same.  I was stressed and missed my baby.  All I could do was pray for Baby Small and Carin more than I have ever prayed before.

And finally, induction day arrived.  We were a little late getting out of the house so when we dropped Noah off at his grandparents’ house, the good-bye was a little rushed.  I hugged that boy with everything I had and didn’t want to let go.  In the several weeks leading up to this, I wanted to spend as much time just enjoying Noah as I could.  I neglected the groceries and the house and other errands, but I didn’t care.  I knew I would mourn the exclusive time that we have together a couple days a week once the baby arrived and I wanted to just soak in this little person who I will always think of going through the trenches with.  We were both fighters the night he was born and because of that, I will always feel like we have a unique and special connection as mother and son.  He made me a mommy and I knew, even though I desperately wanted Baby Small to be here, that Noah and I would never have a time like this again together.  Change is hard for me, even good change.  Letting him go that morning, when he really didn’t have a clue how life was going to change for us, was so hard.  He deserved a never-ending hug after putting up with a pretty stressed out and emotional mommy for the past year, but at some point I let go.  Our time as a family of 3 was over and it was time to go welcome our newest member.

We arrived at the hospital a little after the 8:00 check in time and by 9am, my patience was again being tested.  Not for any specific reason but because I could not believe that we were actually at the day.  This opportunity seemed like a far off dream for so long and I had a hard time coming to grips with the fact that I would be holding our little person by the end of the day.

As Carin was started on Pitocin, she, Peter, Jon and I played a board game, chatted, ate, and waited.  And waited.  I looked at a clock about every minute or two, willing it to hurry the heck up.  I felt nauseous all day too.  Here I was, sitting in the labor and delivery room with my baby in Carin’s tummy but it still didn’t seem real.   It still felt like I was here to support my friend that was going to have a baby.

As the hours passed, “real” labor kicked in and at one point Carin had her eyebrows scrunched, her hand over her eyes, was looking at the ceiling and muttered to no one in particular, “This is not fun anymore.”

Carin and Peter were amazing to watch through labor.  During our families’ initial meeting in November 2013, they talked about how they worked together during labor:  Peter was the coach and talked Carin through each contraction and push.  We were warned he might yell, if that motivated Carin, and they both had smiles on their faces when recalling the labors of Emma and Liam.  I was in awe of what I watched that evening.  Peter was right there with Carin and seemed to know what she needed and when.  He anticipated her needs and at times asked her to do more and she listened.  It was beautiful and so special to witness.

Around 6:30, Carin felt like it was time to push and nurses, a midwife and OB came in to help.  I changed into a shirt that would allow me to be skin to skin with the baby.  I tried my hardest to just take in the moment.  I looked around the room and watched the nurses and OB and watched the midwife lovingly take care of Carin.  Carin and Peter were in the zone by now and to watch Carin push and suffer through the contractions was so bittersweet.  I would have given anything for it to be me, but it was clear that her body really was made to do this.  She was so focused, so purposeful and so motivated about her breathing, the pushing, even making jokes when she had time.

I stood on the left side of her hospital bed and clung to Jon’s hand and watched the activity in the room, almost like I was having an out of body experience.  I told Carin earlier in the day that I’d had a vision of this day shortly after meeting her for the first time.  I saw the delivery room and I always stood on her left side.    To finally be there was surreal. . . and I still didn’t believe I was waiting for my baby.

About 15 minutes into pushing, the OB let us know that she could see the head and the light colored hair.  I’m not sure when my ugly crying really kicked into gear, but it’s possible that it happened in that moment.  It was then that Carin looked at me and asked me if I wanted to catch my baby.  I think I just stared at her.  I was trying to process her question and couldn’t speak.  So she asked me again and I mumbled “OK” through my tears and stood next to the OB.  There was my baby’s head.  There was the blonde hair.  He/she was so close and almost here!  The OB told me where to put my hands and how to “deliver” the baby with her.

In those short few moments, the past year began swirling through my mind.  This moment, this once in a lifetime moment, was worth everything we had gone through:  the injections and procedures for IVF, the battles with the insurance company, the outstanding balance on our credit cards from legal and medical bills, the weight gain from medication & supplements to induce lactation, pumping every 3 hours the past 5 weeks, the total lack of control over anything, the tears shed on almost a daily basis.  Here I was, ready to be the first person to touch this precious soul.

The next thing I know we saw the baby’s neck and the cord wrapped around the neck.  “Cry baby cry!” I thought.  The OB unwrapped the cord from around the neck but there was still a cord so the OB calmly said “Oh!  A double!” and unwrapped the cord again.  My baby still hadn’t cried and I was trying not to panic.  There was one last push and the baby was in my arms!  Now I could find out if I had a son or daughter.  I stared at the *diaper area* and my first though was, “Where is the penis?!”  I was so convinced that our baby was a boy that I fully expected to see a penis.  But I didn’t.  But I kept staring and again I asked myself “Where is the penis?”.  And then it clicked.  This baby was a girl. 

Everyone in the room knew Jon had the honor of announcing the sex, but he had trouble getting it out.  “It’s a. . .it’s a. . .it’s a girl!”  He was barely able to speak by the end of that sentence and was crying more than I’ve ever seen someone cry.  As this reality began to settle in, all I could do was hold my daughter, embrace my uncontrollable ugly cry and just heave my shoulders up and down.  “It’s Grace!  It’s Grace!” I yelled.  I wanted everyone to know she had a name.  I heard voices ask me more than once if I was OK and I always just nodded my head because I couldn’t speak.  I think they were afraid I was going to drop her but there was no chance of that happening.  At some point, I looked to my right and said to Jon, “Baby, it’s a girl!”.  The priceless look on Jon’s face will be burned into my memory forever.  He was sobbing with his eyes closed and looked broken and overwhelmed.  I don’t even think he heard me.  When it was time, Jon cut the cord and Grace was ours. 

I remember at some point looking at Carin while holding Grace and that’s all I was capable of doing:  looking.  I couldn’t smile, laugh, talk or even attempt a different facial expression other than the ugly cry.  I’m pretty sure she knew how grateful I was at that moment.

I sat down with Grace, she latched on and we started to breastfeed.  I was so proud that both of us looked like we knew what we were doing.  

After a few minutes, she needed to go under the warmer and the baby nurse took her measurements, administered a shot and eye antibiotic, all normal and routine.  The room had basically cleared out by then and Jon and I just stared at Grace while Carin started to recover.

And then things got scary.

Carin made a comment about how she felt like she was losing some blood.  My ears perked up and I turned around and saw as the nurse lift the white sheet draped over Carin’s knees.  The chux pad was red.

No, no, no, no, no.

Carin:  “Is there a lot of blood?”
Carin’s nurse:  “There’s more than we’d like there to be.”

I’m a nurse.  That’s code for “Yes”.

The room was suddenly flooded with staff again:  the OB, midwife and more nurses.  It was controlled chaos.  Medications being ordered.  Sterile procedures being prepped.  Multiple chux pads being weighed and the EBL (estimated blood loss) began to add up.

No, no, no, no, no.

I forgot about Grace.  I forgot about Jon.  I only had eyes for Carin.  I stared and her and prayed:  “Please God no.  This cannot happen.  This is not our story.  Please God no.”

The bleeding was controlled and everyone exited the room.  But it happened again.  Scrubs came back into the room and the staff was more excited than before.  Moving quicker.  Looking more anxious.  Orders were now barked and no one could move fast enough for anyone else’s liking.  I was holding Grace and sitting next to Jon now but I just stared at Carin while praying profusely.  I just wanted to stand up and yell, “I’m a nurse!”, grab some gloves and help.  It went against everything in me to just be a bystander.  They described her uterus as “boggy”, they ordered labs, they had the blood bank on the phone with 2 units on hold.  I was reliving Noah’s birth and I couldn’t move. 

Again, Peter and Carin worked as a team.  They were touching the entire time, Peter was talking to Carin in her ear and they looked like warriors.  Someone asked Carin if she was OK since she was shaking really hard and she said, “I’m not nervous.”  She was fighting.  Even Peter appeared cool as a cucumber.  They just kept fighting and working together.

They got Carin stable and it was time for our little family to leave the room and let Carin and Peter focus on themselves.  Before we left, Carin held Grace and I wanted the moment to last forever.   Carin had always said she just wanted to kiss the baby’s cheeks and she was able to do that.

 Grace was put back in her hospital bassinette and we all hugged good-bye.  I didn’t let Carin go for a long time, but when I did, I gave her a kiss, looked her in the eyes and said, “I’ll see you tomorrow.”  The implication being, she was going to be well enough for us to visit tomorrow.  I refused to say the words “good-bye”.

Jon and I grabbed our bags and 2 nurses went with us and we all rolled Grace out the door into the hallway of the L&D unit.  I just stared at the floor.  After a few steps, I lost it.  I broke down and started crying again, this time, for my dear friend.  I hoped that she wasn’t able to hear me but I was crying pretty loudly.  I felt a nurse put a hand on my shoulder and I told our story in 1 sentence:  “I had a post-partum hemorrhage with my son’s birth and needed a hysterectomy.  That’s why we needed Carin.”  Suddenly I was engulfed with arms and hands rubbing my back and head.

I love nurses.

I kept crying and then asked, “Why is there a black cloud over our baby’s births?”  One nurse replied, “There is no black cloud.  Your babies are beautiful and Carin is going to be just fine.”

We settled in to our room and just prayed.  We sat up next to our phones and waited for news.  Peter kept us updated and when we heard that Carin had been stable for a while and hadn’t bled in some time, I felt like I could try to sleep, but it was still hard.  I kept crying and kept praying:  “Please God no.”

Sleep was not to be had that night.  Grace and I were up every hour trying to figure breastfeeding and burping out.  Sunday at 4:26am, nine and a half hours after Grace was born, Carin sent me a text saying she was stable but they were keeping a very close eye on her.  It was time to exhale and keep praying she stayed that way.  I knew that even when you’re stable, things can change on a dime and I couldn’t bare it if any more bleeding occurred. 

The next morning the sun rose and some amazing nurses made sure that our families were reunited, even though it went against policy of the NICU (where we stayed that night. . .but that’s a whole other story.)  I loved these nurses.  Policies be damned.  The nurses knew it was psychologically vital for all of us to have this time together.  Jon captured on video Emma (with Carin’s help) giving me Grace.  “Here you go, here’s your baby!” she said in her sweet little voice.  I couldn’t talk.  I was crying again.  That one simple sentence marked the end.  

This chapter of our families’ journey together was coming to an end.  The Shermans were all reunited and after lots and lots of good-byes, thank you’s, hugs and tears, the four of them left our room.

And now that we’ve been home for a few days and I can process the past 939 days, I can fully say in all honesty:  If it was not for the event’s that followed Noah’s birth, Grace wouldn’t be here, so I’m truly thankful for my journey that led me to her.   I feel back to “normal”.  Gone is this load from my proverbial shoulders that weighed on me day after day after day:  How are we going to grow our family?  What are our options?  What can we realistically afford?  How open are we with people about this?  Why do I feel so ashamed?  How are we going to grow our family?!

Although this experience has dominated my time, thoughts and energy over the past 2 and a half years, it won’t define me.  I won’t let it be my label.  It’s now just a part of my story, that Grace has been bestowed on me. 

Grace:  God’s unmerited, unearned favor.