Guys, meet Ransom Gregory: born on May 5th, 2015.
I can’t believe I have a baby boy. I can’t believe he is really here. I can’t believe that I ended up having another totally traumatic birth experience. I can’t believe that things are OK. I can’t believe how different everything is now. It’s probably way too soon for me to even think about writing this out, but I have to try. Here is the story of his birth:
Two weeks ago, I went to my normal doctor’s appointment. The week before I had packed my bag (cell phone charger, extra books, change of clothes) and while I had ended up getting admitted, I had been released after several hours. Two weeks ago, I was feeling a bit better and my husband went with me this time since my mom was in town and watching Ramona. Two weeks ago, my blood pressure was really high so they admitted me to triage but I still felt very optimistic. After several hours the doctor on call came in and said all of my blood work looked normal except for one thing (kidneys) —and that one thing was very NOT normal. Preeclampsia with severe features, she told me. When did you last eat? Um, six hours ago? OK, then you will be having your baby within the next few hours.
My husband and I were surprised. Our phones were almost dead but we managed to text my mom and my husband took a pre c-section selfie. We thought it would take awhile for everything to get organized, but two hours later there I was, getting cut open. It wasn’t quite as dramatic as my first birth, but it still was a bit of a blur.
Ransom was born at 6lbs 2oz—a super healthy weight for a baby born at 36 weeks (on the dot). After a brief moment in the OR (pictured) I didn’t get to hold him for the next few hours, but Krispin was able to be with him and do skin-on-skin for awhile. The next few days are a blur—the normal recovery from a c-section, figuring out how Ransom was doing (he took a few days, but eventually was able to suck and swallow and start breastfeeding in earnest), remembering what it is like to have a newborn. On Friday, three days after the surgery, right on schedule, they let me and Ransom go home. I was shocked. No two week NICU stay. No lists of do’s and don’ts for a preemie (technically he was a late pre-term baby, and he was doing splendidly). No horrible lingering health effects. I felt on top of the world. We had dodged a bullet. We were good.
It was great to come home and hang out with Ramona again (she was able to visit us at least once a day in the hospital, but usually only in short bursts since she had tons of rather manic energy). The next day, Saturday, a home health nurse came to check on both Ransom and I (side note: home health nurses are awesome! You don’t have to cart your baby into the clinic/hospital the next day!). She was mostly concerned about him, checking jaundice levels and making sure he was at least maintaining weight. At the end, she took my blood pressure and I could tell she was trying not to freak out. She made me lie down for awhile and took it again. It was 170/110. She called my doctor and the doctor told me to go the emergency room at my earliest convenience.
At this point, it was creeping past dinner time and I knew I couldn’t bring my preemie baby with me into an emergency room. Also, I thought they just might give me some BP medication and send me home. The hospital where I had delivered at (plus where my clinic was) was 30 minutes away. We live 3 blocks away from another hospital, so we chose to go to the closer emergency room. It took forever, as those places can. I felt despondent at leaving my baby with my parents, especially as the hours ticked on. The emergency room doctor ran labs and results were not good—my liver enzymes were way elevated—and so he started me on the dreaded magnesium sulfate, the medicine I had been hoping to avoid this entire time. If you have never been on mag, it’s sort of hard to explain how awful it is (and if you have been on it, you are nodding your head in solidarity right now). As they inserted an IV into my arm, right there in the emergency room, I could feel it as it started to work it’s way into my system. I tried to explain it this way to my husband: imagine you are preparing to travel to some far-away galaxy, and you are mid-way through the process of being put into hyper-sleep. Except they stop halfway, so you are suspended in a half-dead, half-alive state of being. That’s what it feels like to be on mag, except you are also nauseous and irritable and your vision is so blurry you can’t hardly see. So lovely.
We managed to sweet-talk our way onto the maternity ward (they were going to put us in a regular old ICU room, but I was adamant about not bringing my preemie baby into that kind of environment) so finally they transferred me to the Mother Baby Center (which was across the street). It took forever for them to figure out how to transport me over there. I was hooked up to a lot of machines at that point, and wasn’t quite sure what was going on. Don’t you guys ever get people who come into the emergency room and have to be transferred to the Mother Baby Center? I asked one of the people tasked with transporting me. Yeah, he said, but nobody who is as sick as you. The machines surrounding me were to make sure I didn’t have a stroke on the one-block journey.
I ended up being in that hospital for almost four days. They were pretty awful days. 30+ hours on the horrible medicine, while trying to figure out breastfeeding with a preemie. A few more days of trying to figure out medication to bring my blood pressure down. My mom and dad and Ramona all got sick, so they couldn’t come visit us in the hospital. Ransom wasn’t a patient but I was, so my husband wasn’t allowed to leave the baby alone with me for even a second (because I was in no shape to care for him and the nurses weren’t in charge of him—only me).
As it turns out, this happens all the time. Preeclampsia (and HELLP) can spike after delivery—even up to weeks afterward. It was pretty devastating psychologically, because I truly felt like I had made it through victorious, only to come crashing back to reality. All along I knew that in this pregnancy I had a 25% chance of HELLP recurring, and I knew the chances of developing pre-e were high (I just didn’t know how high—50%). I felt confident that this time, the doctor’s would be watching me like a hawk and they would catch things before I got too sick. And even though I did have excellent medical care, as it turns out, I still got super sick. It was hard to accept, even as it was happening to me and my body.
Finally, on Tuesday afternoon they let me go home. They had switched up my meds and my BP was as low as it had been pre-pregnancy. But that night I took my blood pressure right before I went to bed. It was as high as it had been to land me in the emergency room on Saturday. I wanted to cry and scream, but I knew that it would only raise my blood pressure more (indeed, this entire time, these past 8 days, I had been trying hard to keep my shit together because the only way I could go home was if my BP lowered—so I had barely cried at all). All I knew was that there was no way in hell I was going back to the emergency room. I was not leaving my babies again. So if I had a stroke in the middle of the night, so be it. Obviously, this was not a good recipe for sleep. I had a terribly anxious, sleep-less night (also: newborn). The next day I called my regular doctor and she told me to come in. My husband and I packed bags, we kissed our daughter goodbye and cried the entire way to the hospital (the first one, the far away one). We were so scared of it all happening again.
The doctor was sober but not overly concerned. She forbade me from taking my blood pressure again. I was still to be on modified bed rest, like I had been since the beginning of April. My labs came back that day stable—the liver enzymes hadn’t gone down in a few days, but they weren’t sky high. We went home, relieved, but I still struggled with feeling like the other shoe still hadn’t dropped. The next few days involved a whole lot of anxiety and soliciting of prayers and psalms. I was so so so terrified of going back to the hospital, and I was also terrified of dying. I have never experienced fears like this before, and they were devastating. My dad, a bastion of calm amidst life’s storms (that’s what being a pastor for nearly 40 years will do to you) likes to tell people this in times of crisis: when you hear hoofbeats, think horses, not zebras. Don’t assume the worst, most terrifying outcome possible. But as my mom said about Ransom’s birth: well, we sure have had a lot of zebras around here.
A few things helped: knowing people everywhere were praying. This meditation by the New Liturgists. This album of psalms by Sandra McCracken. My mom. My husband. My two kids. Ice cream sandwiches. This particular episode of Bob’s Burgers. This blog post about not trying to control the future, because God is only with us in the present. Newborn snuggles. In the hospital I had been texting with my sisters, and my younger sister told me to look for the mercies. So I have been trying to train my eyes to see, and they really are all around, they really are new every morning. A friend messaged me that when he is feeling anxious he stands tall and puts his hand on his heart and says “Jesus, I trust in you.” I have been doing that a lot lately.
In the past few days, my blood pressure has slowly started to go down. My body is slowly returning to normal, or at least a new normal (it will take time to see what the long-term affects are, especially in terms of BP and vision). I see my doctor every few days. I am being taken care of. I am in that strange land of being so grateful for my son and so utterly gutted by the experience of bringing him into this world. Eventually I will think of myself as a survivor. Eventually I will think about how 100 years ago I would have been dead, twice over. Eventually I will be grateful for everything, will see it through the misty lens of time and distance. But for now I am sad, anxious, tired, delighted, charmed, and most of all—present. The miracles are just as obvious as the traumas: for instance, if the home health nurse hadn’t visited, I might not have gone into the hospital until it was too late (I was an odd case where I presented no other symptoms of high BP—no headaches or shortness of breath or spotty vision). In time, I will be able to see it all more clearly.
For now, we are all working on recovering. We are taking the rest of May as a family to recuperate and regroup, to enjoy each other anew. The house will be a mess, but we will be together. We will marvel at what we have now, and where we have come from. We will learn to see the mercies every morning. We will look for them expectantly.