08 June 2013

Labor Guilt: when your body takes over prematurely

This is an article I wrote last month but never published. It was after reading about how vaginal births might be safer for preemies but it upset me deeply because my contractions were killing Tristan. Some days it wouldn't have gotten to me - but it wasn't one of those days.

I wasn't sure if I'd ever share it or if I was just venting; it's rather disjointed and I don't want to edit what I was feeling in the moment. 

Today is a special day: it is 8 June. It is the day Tristan was discharged from his second round of NICU. It is his Homecoming For Good Day. There isn't a day that's gone by where I haven't thought, I'm so happy he's home...

lingering preemie mom guilt, mentally healing from premature birth, things I could have done different to avoid a preemie
Two NICU stays - and more recently birthday number two!

Preemie moms experience a lot of guilt. They think about what they could have done differently to have kept their babies cooking inside until they were full term. I think about how I could have tried to stay calmer during the fire and the aftermath that followed...but I'd mostly checked out of my head to remain calm. When I think about it objectively I think I was pretty darn calm. Four out of the five weeks following the fire I was sleeping on the floor, had the flu, and kept my tears in check because I felt as a house guest I needed to keep my perky face forward. It was all so awkward.

My biggest guilt is when I went to bed that morning (remember, I worked 4 p.m. to 4 a.m. so 'bedtime' was around 5 or 6 a.m.). We'd been in our new apartment for exactly a week. I'd just fallen asleep when I felt like I had an accident. I'd read on the The Bump that babies can lean on your bladder and make you pee. So I went back to bed and carried on like usual. I was really nervous about working that night but we needed the money and I'd taken off so many days because of the fire. On top of that I could only handle two 12-hour shifts/week and Saturday was a big money night. Rent & bills right there. So you can imagine how much I wanted to keep working those shifts as long as I could.

I always got mega-glammed up for my Saturday shifts. The bar's rule was low-light, practically dark. We had flashlights to give to people if they had trouble reading the menu. So my make up was dark and glitzy. My nails were a fresh coat of green-purple-black glitter. I had a gigantic black flower pinned against the back of my head - it was a girlie-box donation from one of my friends. Those were my favorite. When the girlie-girls would go through their stashes and send me extra hair pretties and make-up and just silly stuff like plastic toys and extra nail polish and markers. I'd take the stuff out and look at it each night. It felt nice to hold something that wasn't smelly or covered in soot. I was really psyched about this big poofy black flower because I had a pretty big collection that I'd lost. I was getting bigger but wore a "Baby on Board" necklace every day so that strangers wouldn't ask me if I was fat or pregnant. Luckily I really did wear it every day so it was with me when the apartment went down. I guess I gave birth in it.

The paramedics in the ambulance tried to tell me I was having contractions. I kept telling them it wasn't possible because I wasn't due until late May/early June. I was just feeling pressure on my tailbone and should probably get checked. The woman paramedic looked at me with pity - not in a mean way - but in the way that EMS personnel will when they know something before you. She was so sweet to me the entire time. When she got me in the wheelchair she said she hoped it was nothing and wished me luck. She humored me so I'd stay calm, but it was that look in the ambulance that made my heart race.

One of my brothers is currently a police officer, but he was a medic for a long time. For as long as I can remember he's been helping people. When he was 16 he'd zip off to help retrieve body parts from a plane crash or help use the jaws of life to cut his classmates out of cars after a deadly drunk driving accident while I was going to raves. I didn't have a care in the world. He'd talk about his days at dinner when I bothered to show up. He has that grim sense of humor that comes with the job. Anyway, something about my brother's stories and the way that paramedic looked at me caused a reaction in my gut. I was That Girl in Denial Who Probably Had to Have Her Baby. Idle dinner chat.

I only spent a second in triage before I was rushed up to L&D on the 7th floor. Brandon was with me but then they asked him to wait in a room. This is when they transferred me from the wheelchair to the wheely-bed. My nurse nearly fainted when she saw the 16-hole boots I had laced on, but I went tah-dahhh! and revealed the side zippers. We had to move quickly. When I removed my pants there was a splash. She gently said, That was your water the whole time!

I think this is when the frenzy began - like, it really heated up. I wasn't alone with the nurse anymore there were swarms going in and out, hooking me up to things, questions from all directions. I was in my gown but I couldn't put my head down because of that gigantic flower and I struggled to take it out. One of the nurses asked me if I'd gotten dressed up before coming in. My heart shattered. It still shatters every time I remember the question. No, of course I didn't get dressed up. If I'd only known I was in labor I wouldn't have washed my face or changed from my bedclothes. I'd be running.

I was starting to feel delirious and said, no, no was at work...and then someone else asked why I hadn't come in sooner. That was asked a few times. Someone said, Well if you HAD come in sooner we might have been able to prevent this. Well, thanks. I'll keep that in mind FOR THE REST OF MY LIFE.

Numbers were called out. No heartbeat. NO HEARTBEAT. Finally something. Distress, turn her onto her side. The IV hit a vein and blood sprayed everywhere. No, nonono, don't turn over it's making things worse. We have to run. Get her to the OR now - someone get dad! Brandon. He was just on the other side of the wall but had no idea what was going on yet.

They brought Brandon in scrubs and he stood behind me. His voice was very soft and gentle. It also sounded scared. I knew he was in shock, too.

While rolling down the hall I finally felt a contraction. The kind where you see stars and know you've gotta push; like the TV shows make it out to be. One part of my brain was on high-speed, the other was on slow-mo.

Was I losing our baby after we'd lost everything else in our lives?

I had experienced so much loss. It hadn't yet been confirmed that my cats were dead so I was in a grief-stricken limbo where I pretended they were to make it easier but when I was alone in the neighborhood I would check under porches and cry and call out their names.

There are no words to express how much loss losing everything is...it's so big...and then there was the feeling that I just had to let go and stop caring. If I didn't care it wouldn't hurt as much when I was told something else didn't make it.

But this was my baby...and you have to believe me when I say that I truly thought he was dying our first month in NICU but nobody would tell me. After all the labor and delivery hoopla he was stable and considered a grower and feeder. Nobody told me that. But they also can't tell you they're going to be OK because you never know. I was preparing my heart for another loss. Eventually one of my nurses put her hand on my shoulder and said, I shouldn't say this but you know he's doing really well, right? Will he die, I asked? I don't think you have anything to worry about. That rebel nurse. I mean, yeah, something could have happened but she snapped me out of a haze. I became present that day.

There was still a long road ahead for us in NICU and an even longer road that I'm still traveling as I heal from the trauma of the fire. Though I'm coming back to myself I am still left with waves of guilt...but it's getting better. I'm definitely becoming more logical about things where I was all emotional rationale before...


  1. Tristan's birth story gave me flashbacks to Kellen's. His wasn't quite as frantic because they broke my water...we were in the OR very shortly later. Anyway, just wanted to say "hugs, mama" and maybe it's not exactly alike, but I understand.

    1. Thanks, Tatum. Even when stories are different the emotions are generally the same...and I'm grateful to have people who understand in my life <3

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  3. i'm glad you wrote this; it doesn't sound disjointed at all. it's a brave story and one i understand you need to tell.

    i really can't believe somebody said "if you had come in earlier..." ugh i want to punch him in the face for you.

    but anyway... tristan's home, and praise the lord.


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