We all have a story, why we do what we do…
“Daddy, please, don’t.” My father is stroking my arm. In any other context it would be fine. We are a touchy-feely kind of family. Yet at this moment, I am in labor with my first child, my senses heightened and every little touch increases my anxiety. I’ve been in premature labor for the past eleven days.
Ironic, I am back at my alma mater, UCLA. Last year I graduated from UCLA Nursing School, got married two months later, pregnant five months after that. It had been a rough transformative year. Nana was diagnosed with lung cancer some fifteen months after Poppop died of liver failure. My parents announced their divorce. My husband and I began our new careers. He is a police officer. I am a nurse. We moved away from our hometown. And now we’re having a baby.
It’s the first time in my life I’ve been a patient. First time I have been hospitalized. And I am really, really sick. Toxemia. That is what they call it. I am so swollen that the bottom of my feet are round as the bottom of a boat. My toes look like sausages. My blood pressure is super high. I have an outrageous headache. And they are pumping me full of magnesium sulfate to keep me from having seizures. My liver is failing; my kidneys are following suit. My body is rejecting my baby.
And they are trying to come early, some ten weeks early. I had a dream before I conceived that I had a blond, blue-eyed baby boy. I saw him. I held him. My husband and I even named him – Jarys.
Suddenly, I feel a tremendous pressure. The baby is coming! “Daddy, get Mom!”
My father pats my arm reassuringly. “Honey, she is resting. She has been up all night with you.”
We have all been up for days. Right now, my husband, Steve, is resting, too, alongside my sisters, his mother, his grandmother. Nana is too sick to be here, but she would if she could. I can feel her holding me some fifty miles away. But even the comfort of her ethereal presence is not enough to take away this awful pressure.
“Go get Mom! The baby is coming!”
“But you said the nurse just checked you…”
She did, just before Dad traded places with Mom. And apparently, I was still only two centimeters. But my baby is premature, really tiny – intrauterine growth retardation – way smaller than they should be at this stage. The pressure nearly brings me out of bed. I know to blow out and not push. Not that I had time to take birthing classes. I went into premature labor and was hospitalized the day before class started. My newly pregnant sister went with Steve to learn the basics in my place. In nursing school, I did a rotation in labor and delivery, this very unit I am in now. I remember what I taught my patients. But goodness knows, it is easier said than done. I really need to push!
My father runs out of the room to find Mom.
In five more breaths, my short little Italian mother bursts through the curtains, takes one look at my face, peeks under the sheets between my legs, and yells for the nurse!
“Look at me, Deb!” Mom lifts my chin and looks me in the eye. “You can not push. Breathe with me.”
“Mom,” I gasp between breaths. The contractions are coming faster, harder, right on top of each other. “Steve needs to be here!”
Mom kisses my forehead. “Yes, he will be with you. Just breathe.”
As soon as the nurse arrives and confirms that the baby is crowning, she holds the baby back with one hand, pushes the emergency call light with the other, unlocks the wheels of the gurney with her foot, and maneuvers me out of the room. Mom throws me another kiss and runs, yelling down the hall for my husband.
The next thing I know I am being prepped for delivery. Steve steps in, dressed in a blue gown, just as the intern doctor gets in position to deliver our baby. My husband looks scared, but so does the intern.
The chief resident steps in, directs the younger doctor to perform an episiotomy to protect our premature baby’s head. “But I have not given her a block.”
“There’s no time. Do it!” says the Doctor
For the first time since labor began, I cry out in pain. Steve holds me, kissing away my tears, apologizing for the pain that only a woman can know.
And in three heartbeats, out slides Jarys, just as tiny and fair as I saw in my dream. Still I am surprised at all that blond hair! We are Greek and Italian. Our babies are usually dark.
They whisk my baby away before I can touch them. “Go, Steve, don’t let him out of your sight!” He gives me one more kiss. “And whatever you do, only talk to the chief resident!”
I was trained here at UCLA. I know the system well. The “baby docs”, the lowest on the MD totem pole, don’t know much yet. They’re in training. Interns tend to quote the books and not look at the patient. So whatever they say needs to be taken with a grain of salt.
I lie back. I can hear my mother’s voice, “What is it? A boy or a girl?” No one answers.
This feels like a dream. I almost died giving birth ten weeks early to a two-pound, seven-ounce baby.
And this adventure has just begun.
The tornado of this birth has carried me into the world of hospitals, doctors, medical research and becoming my child’s advocate.
Like Dorothy in the Wizard of Oz, I realize, “We’re not in Kansas is anymore!”