August 28, 2014

And Then There Was You

Bradley and Chapman  
Six weeks ahead of Chapman's due date, he was trying his best to be born, regardless of our plans. That's some gumption.

Bradley sped back to the hospital after dropping Mac and Mary Brooks with a friend, placing a call en route to finalize the purchase of a suddenly-very-necessary SUV. The pieces of the puzzle we'd hoped to put together by Valentine's Day were sliding into place shortly after New Year's; it was miraculous and terrifying. 

The doctor on call checked me before B made it up to my room, and it became abundantly clear that my hope of stopping Chapman was a fantasy.

My husband, in his infinitely calm and even-keeled wisdom, suggested we let go and enjoy the day. Now that we knew this was our son's birthday, we needed to make the most of it; there was no use fighting what was already happening.

It was a bit too sudden for me, though. At dawn I'd woken up in pain; by 8:30 I was at the doctor's office. Two short hours later I was gowned up, epiduraled (this is not a word, but can I get a hallelujah for medicine!) and wondering what on Earth had happened to my Monday.

I'd been pregnant for 12 of the last 13 months; it bent the boundaries of time for me. Only zoo animals carry babies that long, right? The entire year of 2013, save one very sad five weeks, I'd been growing someone. I was determined to meet this child, and not one minute before mid-February.

It raised the stakes physically and emotionally having lost our baby only nine months before, just when I "should" have been out of the woods. With Chapman we never quite settled into the confidence of previous pregnancies, the giddy sureness that a big bow would be on our front door at 40 weeks.

There had been panicked phone calls, urgent ultrasounds, hospital rooms and steroid shots. Thank God no real problem could be pinpointed, but the symptoms were constant reminders, and fear nagged me. Chapman was the boy we promised ourselves we wouldn't lose.

I remember standing in our pitch-black sunroom at twelve weeks pregnant, begging Bradley to promise, despite the bleeding and the worry and the trip we were taking to the ER, that this was still our "take-home baby." This was the baby we wouldn't have to bid farewell to without ever meeting.

All eight months of Chapman's pregnancy I'd pictured that glorious moment just after delivery when I'd snuggle him on my chest, resplendent with hormones and happiness and the joy of taking part in a miracle.

He was coming, praise God, but I wouldn't get that moment. It's a lot to process in a few contraction-filled hours.

My parents flew up the interstate from Columbia, as they always do, and my in-laws retrieved Mac and Mary Brooks and treated them to a Chick-fil-A lunch at the hospital. By the time Mom and Dad made it into my room to say hello, I had to rush them right back out after the briefest of hugs; it was go time.

Everything led up to this. Despite my OB's objections, believing strongly that all was well with our boy, the NICU team began hurling facts and potentialities my way. They stayed in the corner - my doctor made sure of that - but I had to try my hardest not to focus on what they signified.

After one last statement of the obvious ("I'm not quite ready to meet him; I really wasn't planning to do this today!"), Chapman was here in a blink.

Chapman Collins Smith, our take-home baby.
He was pink, perfect, tiny and crying softly. He was here.

Our OB kept the NICU team at bay for a moment so I could see the son I'd carried so many (but not quite enough) weeks. I looked at him and my heart dropped. "Hello, my love!" I remember hearing the words leave my mouth as though I was a bystander; so much was happening at once.

Chapman was weighed quickly, and I was relieved to know he tipped the scales at 5 pounds and 7 ounces. Five pounds was some odd fixation of mine, as if somehow he'd be healthier, be safer if he crossed that arbitrary, invisible line.

As they wheeled him out, I whispered after him that I loved him, that I was sorry. Bradley and a small team of experts left with the newest, most scrumptious piece of my racing heart.

Little is as shockingly quiet as an empty delivery room. Our doctor kept me company until my parents returned, not 45 minutes after they'd first arrived.

Mac and Mary Brooks came in later with my in-laws, wide-eyed and laughing. It was such a happy occasion for them - waffle fries, grandparents and big sibling stickers!

Mac's discomfort with hospitals goes back to his earliest memories, so I'd prepared him thoroughly for a typical birth. I'd stay in the hospital a day or two, and his brother would be a in a "clear box on wheels" beside my bed.

Mary Brooks was giddy, but Mac wasn't buying it.
He entered exuberantly, rushing to my bedside before welling up. "Where's my baby?!?" Bradley had told them Chapman was arriving early, but the NICU hadn't crossed our minds. Mac dropped his head to the mattress and wept, splitting my heart even more.

I'm more than thankful I was able to hold it together that afternoon. The children were on my lap an hour after Chapman arrived, and I knew if I started crying I'd never stop. So I smiled. I took Bradley's advice and soaked up the gift of our growing family; I shoved aside the ache from an empty spot on my chest where a newborn should've been.

God gave us a beautiful, eager-to-be-here baby. His time in the NICU is another story, but I'm grateful for the perfect timing of Chapman's birth, even if it didn't seem that way to me at the time.

Seven-plus months later, it still twists my stomach to think about sending my sweet newborn away. A half-effective (but better than nothing!) epidural left one side of me numb for hours, which delayed our first NICU catch-up and snuggle session.

Gussied up in my best robe for my first date with Chappers.
It wasn't the dream sequence I'd played in my head for eight anxious months, but Chapman was our take-home baby, just as I'd fervently prayed. 

August 5, 2014

An Early Bird

On January 6 I woke up, as many pregnant women do, before dawn. Padding back and forth from the bathroom to my bed, it occurred to me that something baby-related was happening; I couldn't have guzzled enough La Croix the night before to require five ladies' room visits in a half-hour.

At 34 weeks along, I chalked it up to our boy finally turning head-down. He'd struck a nerve, I told myself, and surely the discomfort would die down soon. This was a good thing, in the long run - a sign that his debut would be an easy one when the time came.

Unfortunately, the pains didn't die down; they intensified. I pictured his head nuzzling into my lower back, convincing myself that whatever yoga poses he was doing in there would settle down shortly.

Soon it felt like Chapman was burrowing down every few minutes, with a whole lot of purpose behind his movement. This was my third rodeo, but it was weeks too early for labor, and I clung to each shred of denial I could find.

By 6:30 I knew I'd need to go into my OB's office as soon as it opened so they could make the pain stop. I showered, took deep breaths and rocked side to side to "calm" my little guy; I crawled in bed beside a just-stirring Mary Brooks to distract myself. Mac, attuned to anything out of the ordinary, gave me the side-eye immediately.

"Why are you breathing like that, Mama? Are you feeling ok?"

Welp. How do you answer that, exactly?

I shimmied into my comfiest outfit, putting aside my feelings about leggings and long cardigans, and prayed for business hours to arrive quickly.

Bradley packed up milk in sippy cups, baggies full of Cheerios and tiny boxes of raisins for a picnic in the car. I tried to quiet my huffing and puffing from the front seat so Mac and MB could enjoy their early morning drive en famille in peace.

I waddled into the OB's office, asking the receptionist to work me in and, after a moment or two, returning with tears in my eyes. It was okay if they were too busy to see me so early, I said; just say the word and I'll head to the hospital instead. Someone had to make this baby stop hurting me - and stop trying to be born - but I didn't want to terrify every mother-to-be in that waiting room in the meantime. I was early enough that no doctors had arrived yet; every second felt longer.

The OB nurse immediately came out, took my BP during a contraction and had a near conniption fit. Obviously my body was telling me something, so she scurried me into an exam room as I texted a friend, "Owowowowow." Watching videos of Mac and MB kept me distracted for a moment, and then I saw a white coat.

The sweet doctor who delivered MB came to check on me; knowing my history, he told me to hurry to L&D and we'd develop a game plan there. I offered him, between contractions with a lovely nurse's fist pushing into my back for support, several options: I'd go on six weeks of bed rest, I'd sleep right until his due date, I'd stay at the hospital even. I just didn't want to have a baby today.

He smiled knowingly, gave me a hug and reminded me that he'd be on duty Thursday.  (It was Monday.) If I could wait until then, I joked, I'd wait until next month!

Bradley whisked me to the hospital, kiddos in the back seat, and I gave them kisses before sidling up to the OB floor all by my lonesome. B was back in a flash, but not before the nurses helped me realize our son was coming today. Eep.


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