They Say You Forget

By: Sheila Gaudet

I’m writing this for publication on the 16th birthday of my oldest son, Anthony. Our plan for the day includes school, of course, then a trip to the DMV to take his permit test. Despite the fact that he is now taller than I am, has to shave most days, and wears the same size clothes as my husband, I can’t help but see that baby boy that arrived after much effort many years ago.

Everyone has their birth stories and I am no different. Anthony was my first baby. Planned, sort of, the way you often do right after you get married. As in, “oh, we’re not going to try to not get pregnant.” That happened much quicker than I had anticipated…like within a month or so. It happened so fast that when I threw up after lunch one day, I thought I had a stomach bug. Pregnancy hadn’t occurred to me. I was 28 years old and not naïve. I have no idea why I had to get hit on the head with the idea before considering it. One very positive pregnancy test later, we were on our way.

I felt like garbage through my entire pregnancy. In addition to some serious morning sickness (which led to me keeping saltines in my nightstand and my desk at work for the entire pregnancy), I was exhausted all the time. I complained to my OB/GYN but he kept insisting that it was normal during pregnancy. At the time, I was living in Miami and all my family was in upstate New York, including my in-laws. What did I know? I kept working and attending graduate school as I got bigger and bigger.

In addition to the many, many times I was asked if I was having twins, by Christmas-shopping-time, random strangers would stop me at the mall to ask me if I was there by myself and when I was due. It didn’t help that my baby (I didn’t know if it was a boy or a girl as they couldn’t tell when I had my ultrasound at 20 weeks) thought it necessary to play basketball and do gymnastics most of the time. I was working at a medical school in practice management and managed care. The job entailed a fair amount of local travel and many meetings. This was when my little boy decided to start stealing the spotlight, something he has continued to do since. I would be standing up and leading a meeting or presentation when all of a sudden, a foot, elbow or something would start on one side of my abdomen and stretch and move all the way to the other side. You know those movies where there is an alien in someone? That was me. I would gently push back on the appendage that was showing clearly through my clothes as if I was possessed. Combined with my coworkers’ daily check on the level of swelling in my feet, I was not feeling like those “cute” pregnant people. I wasn’t one. Seriously.

About a week before my due date, I went in for a routine check and we realized my amniotic fluid was low. This was on New Year’s Eve. I was sent home with instructions to rest and come back on the 2nd. It was an uneventful holiday, though the imminent arrival did finally prompt my husband to finish removing the wallpaper border in the bathroom I’d been asking for for 8 months. I went to work on the 2nd and then to my appointment later that morning. My fluid level had continued to drop so I went off to be induced.

I was optimistic. First of all, I was no longer going to be pregnant. This made me happy. Second, my son (we finally found out what he was on New Year’s Eve) would be arriving. This, also, made me happy. Third, I was certain that delivery would not be a problem. I was wrong.

After 40 hours of labor, complete with fun things like Pitocin and an epidural, I had progressed to 3 cm. You know how you can’t eat while in labor? Let’s just say mama was a wee bit cranky and ready to slap anyone who offered her an ice chip again. The evening of my second day in labor, I also developed a fever, which led to ice packs and wet towels in my groin, armpits, etc. This is pretty picture, isn’t it? Eventually, my doctor came in and proclaimed my cervix too swollen from the many hours of contractions to continue my delivery and an “emergency” c- section was scheduled for later that night.

When I was wheeled into the OR, it was after midnight. They forgot to remove the ice packs and wet towels so let’s just say it was a wee bit chilly for me in the ER. Thank God for the nurse who noticed, took them away and got me some warm blankets. Eventually, at 1:04 am, Anthony Christopher made his long awaited appearance at 19 ½ inches and 7 lbs 8 oz. His Apgar scores were 9/9 and as disappointed as I was to not be able to hold him, I was relieved that he was out and healthy. They took him to the nursery and eventually I was back in my room. But the fun wasn’t done yet.

I woke up around 5 am and was anxious to see and hold my son. I expected them to bring him to me any time. At 6 am I started throwing things at my husband to wake him up to “go and get him.” I was going to breastfeed and was anxious to see my son and get started. My husband dragged himself down to the nursery and came back a few minutes later. I said, “are they bringing him?” He said, “The doctor is going to come talk to you. They are working on him.” Let me assure you, these are not words to say to a woman who hasn’t held her baby yet and is trapped in bed with an abdominal incision, IVs, and a fair amount of drugs in her system. My mother is a nurse. I had worked in health care management for years by that point. My husband, unfortunately, was unable to clarify what “working on him” meant. As I was attempting to disentangle myself from the various monitors and tubes and climb over the railings on the bed to go find out what was going on (have I mentioned I was not cute during my pregnancy? This is yet another example.), the doctors arrived.

Long story short, Anthony had been given a bottle (which wasn’t supposed to happen) and either aspirated some formula or had TTN (Transient Tachypnea of the Newborn), a temporary respiratory condition that is common in babies delivered by c-section. He was put under a hood apparatus to deliver oxygen and had many IVs giving him antibiotics in case of pneumonia. It was two days before I got to hold my son. At this point in time, c-section patients were being discharged 24 hours after delivery so I was discharged while he was still in the hospital and was allowed to stay in a room, but with no services. I couldn’t drive back and forth to the hospital, which was almost an hour from my house. Add in the challenges of trying to breastfeed during all this and it was not the birth experience I had been dreaming of. After calling in some favors at work, I arranged to have him transferred by ambulance to the teaching hospital closer to my home as we thought he was going to be in the hospital for at least 10 days. Luckily, after the transfer, his x-rays were clear and he was discharged on the second day.

It turned out that I was severely anemic, something discovered after delivery when they suggested I shouldn’t shower by myself. At this point, I was done. It was a rough start for me, as well as for my son. I was never confident in my decision to become a mother and had never dealt with babies in any way. Anthony was colicky and had (what I now know but had no clue at the time) severe reflux. Apparently, there is a difference between “normal” spit up and my experience with his projectile vomiting. We figured out most of the adaptations along the way (sitting up after eating etc).

Despite the bumpy road in the beginning, including a move across country and a divorce before he was 6 months old (making me a single, working parent), he grew and thrived as a toddler and child. He has always been a bright, funny and athletic boy. He started flirting with blond waitresses when he was still in his high chair and his obsession with pretty girls hasn’t changed. We have had many ups and downs over the years but even with the facial hair, permanent attachment to his cell phone, and a bit of teenage attitude, I am forever grateful that we made it through that first week and year, and am looking forward to the man he is rapidly becoming.

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