“Something is wrong.”
I repeated that over and over, at least a dozen times at every doctor’s appointment, throughout the entirety of my pregnancy. From the very first appointment, I had this bizarre gut instinct, indescribable now, where I just KNEW that this pregnancy was “off”. Early on, I had been referred to a high-risk doctor because of complete placenta previa combined with what appeared to be Leif having an intrauterine growth restriction. He was measuring in the 2nd percentile, and every ultrasound at the specialist was coming back with the same results.
All of my babies have measured small in utero, and I’ve always had a TINY baby bump (I hid my pregnancy with Lela until I was 8.5 months!); so none of that really concerned me, though. And by the second trimester, it seemed like the placenta previa was even clearing up; so I was referred back to my normal OB/GYN for regular, ho-hum, totally normal pregnancy appointments. But something just didn’t feel right.
At every appointment, my doctor would measure my stomach, ask me how I felt, shake my hand, tell an awkward joke, and walk out of the room. Every time, he would say my stomach was absolutely fine, measuring on target, and indicated zero signs that Leif still had a growth restriction. Every time, I left feeling like I was just crazy for thinking that something was wrong–maybe because of my previous miscarriages, I was just harboring anxiety and channeling it into this pregnancy…maybe it’s hormones…maybe I’ve felt like I’ve tempted luck by having three healthy children. But the more pregnant I got and the more comments people continued to make about how I was “too small”, I just couldn’t relax.
With all three of my previous babies, I went into labor naturally at 39-40 weeks. But this time around, Leif wasn’t budging. My due date came and went, and there I was–still having to post pregnancy updates on Instagram and let everyone know we were still hanging in there! I never really felt him kick or move too much, which triggered more panic, but my doctor kept reassuring me AGAIN that everything was totally fine…but if Leif wasn’t here by 42 weeks, then it would definitely be time to consider induction.
Sooo….enter a Category Four hurricane barreling directly to our home, expected to make landfall the week of my due date.
Hurricane Florence’s trajectory was aiming right on our town, and things were starting to look scary. The news was hyping it up to be the Storm of the Century, and even though Tom and I both grew up around hurricanes (New Orleans boy marries Charleston girl=no strangers to these storms), this one had us panicking. We live in an area of North Carolina where our street floods even during a gentle rain storm; so, we were fully preparing for the possibility of losing everything in a sea surge. When I was exactly 41 weeks pregnant, evacuations were ordered for the city that we live in. Because of my previous occurrences of extremely rapid labor, my doctor told me that it would be dangerous to evacuate, and we should wait out the storm at the hospital, in the event that I went into labor and the city was too flooded to drive. My doctor assured me 1000 times that he had to be at the hospital anyways, and it would be safer if I was there, too. So, as we watched the houses on our street get boarded up and neighbors leave, we stayed behind.
The day before the storm was supposed to hit, though, Hurricane Florence started losing strength, all of the way down to what eventually became a Category One storm. It seriously felt like every single prayer that we had was answered. The issue of flooding was still a huge concern, though; so after getting a call from our doctor on September 14, we all headed to the hospital to wait out the storm surge there. The doors and windows were all boarded up, the sky was ominous, but it looked like there wasn’t nearly as much to fear as we had been bracing ourselves for. So, because we were already there and there were literally no other patients (thanks evacuations!), my doctor offered us the option to get induced that day.
I was fed the typical lines of “it’s dangerous to be pregnant past 41 weeks” and “he’s not growing anymore”…plus, let’s be honest, I was exhausted, overwhelmed, confused, concerned, and just really ready to hold my baby. So, I agreed to the induction, against what is now my better judgment. Because of a membrane strip earlier that week, my body was showing a couple of signs of being ready for labor anyways–and because of that, I was given a small pitocin drip, and an hour later, my doctor manually broke my water.
Things escalated so quickly after my water broke, that it honestly all blurs together now. Within fifteen minutes of mind-blowingly strong contractions and only one push, Leif was in my arms. I remember reaching my hand down to feel him as he crowned, and then, within seconds, he was on my chest. He was COVERED in vernix and still had hair on every inch of his body; he was horribly bruised and swollen from a rapid birth, and he looked so different from our other babies. My first instinct was to nurse him immediately, but he wouldn’t latch or show any interest at all. I called a nurse over and told her that ALL of my babies have latched instantly and something was wrong. She gave me the same speech that I had heard throughout my pregnancy: “All babies are different. It doesn’t mean something is wrong.” So, the entire hospital staff left the room to give us bonding time with Leif during his first hour.
We held him, we rocked him, we took pictures with him, and I kept trying to nurse him with zero success. About ten minutes after he was born, his face quickly started to turn blue. His breathing became rapid and random and he was making noises that I had never heard a baby make. As I pressed the CALL button to get a nurse in the room, Tom looked at me and said, “Charlotte, I don’t think he’s breathing.”
The nurses came flying into the room and took Leif with them to receive oxygen and take his vital signs. Because I had never had a “sick baby” before, when they whisked him away…I just assumed they would bring him back to me in a few minutes. Tom even left the hospital to go be with the kids, thinking that everything was going to be fine immediately. But as I sat there for hours without my baby, wondering if I was just reading the clock wrong or if he had stopped breathing altogether, the panic set in. A doctor I had never seen before came into my recovery room and was trying to explain to me that something was wrong with my baby, and they needed me to sign a consent form for them to do X-rays and IVs and a million things that I just couldn’t process. I just kept asking him where my baby was, and he kept trying to explain to me that he was admitted into the NICU. But I couldn’t process it. It was one of those situations that you really don’t know how you’ll respond until you live it. And I felt like I was living in a nightmare.
That night was one of the longest of my life–I walked up and down the hall from my room to his nursery, staring at him hooked up to a million machines and being haunted by the memory of him turning blue in my arms. The nurses kept telling me to get sleep, but instead, I sat up all night so confused as to why I wasn’t able to hold my baby.
The next morning, Leif’s NICU doctor came to my room and said that he had finally solved the mystery and things looked like they were going to be okay. After looking at MY medical file and comparing it to Leif’s symptoms, it was obvious that my OB/GYN had my due date incredibly wrong. Leif appeared to be born at the 35-36 week mark, and that explained his immature lungs, appearance at birth, and 6 pound weight. The shock that I was feeling immediately turned to fury and self-loathing. How was I so stupid to let a doctor talk me into an induction? How did I not know? Why did I blindly trust my small town doctor to calculate my due date when I had not even had a menstrual cycle since 2015? I still struggle with massive guilt every time I think back to it; some nights I can’t even sleep, and it’s taken me this long to even say the words out loud or write them.
Once we knew what we were up against, things slowly got easier. Over the next few days, while little Leif quickly adjusted to the world he entered too early, they started weening him off of the machines. They would let me hold him and rock him for increments of time, and after days of not connecting, I was finally getting to bond with my sweet, new baby. He struggled to nurse, he still struggled to breathe easy, and keeping him at a healthy pulse ox was a challenge sometimes. But by the fourth day, we were told that if he could make it a full 24 hours without a rapid breathing episode, we could finally take him home with us, if we agreed to daily doctor appointments for the next two weeks to check his lungs.
And just like that, with a million prayers and positive thoughts, within that week, Leif Alexander finally came home with us, making us a family of six. We went to daily doctor appointments, where we learned to adjust to a new normal, and even now at four months old, he sometimes has the occasional rapid breathing episode. But our pediatrician always assures us that no permanent damage was done–35 weeks is premature, but it’s nothing that time, love, and breastmilk can’t fix. I used to see posts about NICU babies all of the time–some babies who spend a few hours there, some babies who spend months. I never understood the things the moms must be feeling, but after living it that week back in September, my heart goes out to every parent who has to see their baby hooked up to machines, instead of being held in their arms, no matter the length of their stay. I’m grateful for amazing doctors and nurses who devote their lives to saving our babies, keeping them comfortable, and keeping us parents sane with the kindest and most comforting words in the moment. And I’m grateful for this sweet boy who had to fight to make it through his first week on this earth–my love for him grows every single day. ❤️