Dear Lily June,
If you’re ever pregnant someday, you’ll get to a point where you look and feel like this picture from one of my favorite children’s books, The Little Prince:
Your ankles and your patience will both have reached critical mass, your body will be sore and slumped over and sleepy, and your waddle will have lost its magical swish. The only “glow” you’ll experience is the light from the fridge cast over your face as you attempt the futile search for an item–any item–that won’t cause a five-alarm attack of heartburn. At that point, you will long for the third trimester to be over, and you will do the same math that all misled women do: 36 weeks divided by 4 weeks (in a month) = 9 months. Wait, nine months?! I should be done! you’ll think. And you’d be right if Hollywood myths were true–If pregnancies didn’t, at 40 weeks, actually last more like 10 months than 9.
But if Hollywood myths were true, I’d have waited for the miraculously hideous process of my waters breaking to go into labor, and they’d have gushed like Niagara Falls from my loins while I calmly announced to my female co-workers over our venti pumpkin-spice basic b*tchochinos that “I guess it’s time.” Cue girly chuckles, then a montage of panicked dad packing badly, driving badly, and breathing badly scenes. Once we’d been admitted to the hospital after a charming exchange at check-in about how badly I needed this baby out of me and some version of the dialogue “drugs?! where in the love of all that is holy coming out of my hole are the drugs?!” I’d grit my teeth and breathe like the lovechild of a psychopathic clown and Santa Claus in regular Hee-Hee-Hee Ho-Ho-Ho’s until you plopped into the gloved hand of a smiling, in no way world-weary and jaded by a lifetime of deliveries, doctor. Remaining off camera would be my war-torn lady bits and ripped rectum as your dad and I grinned ear-to-ear with our stock photo paradise gleams where he never perspired under the harsh hospital fluorescents, and I never so much as shed a waterproof mascara’d tear.
Real life is rarely so clean and pretty, my Lily.
In real life, I was in a blind grip of panic to be in the waiting room before your full forty weeks were up, even though, moments before I got the news, I felt more than ready to deliver you myself to end the sciatic nerve pain and the insomnia and the indigestion and the seemingly endless “stream” of pee breaks.
In real life, a nurse told me that I had to wait while they cleaned out a special room because I was “going to be there for a while,” and I was scared because I didn’t know what that meant. In real life, she whispered to her fellow nurses behind the station when she thought I wasn’t listening “she’ll be on the mag.” When they all gave knowing nods of condolence towards me, then I was really scared because I knew I didn’t want to know what they meant.
It took an hour in the waiting room to get to the place where I thought I’d be delivering you.
In the first couple hours, the room was fine. It was private. It had a big window. When I commented on this, and a nurse said that the window was regulation for a mag-patient–making some crack about how the the incoming light would make me feel less like a prison inmate in solitary confinement–I began to go into a wet chicken panic in my mind.
She didn’t make jokes after that. After that, she hooked up my IV port. (My first, I was able to crack even though I felt cracked. Be gentle.) After that, there would be two ever-present bags of fluid by my side for the next three days in the hospital: one with some standard solution to keep me alive while I wasn’t eating and one with the torture fluid of infinite unwell.
Magnesium sulfate, Lily June, was once, ironically, used to stop preterm labor from happening. And yet here I was, being hooked up to it when I was to be induced. Why? Because it’s currently considered the most effective treatment to stave off preeclampsia from becoming full-blown eclampsia. In other words, the high blood pressure I was experiencing as a bad reaction to my own body’s placenta could, if left unchecked, lead me to have a seizure, and that point, my body would go from being a high class hotel with a constantly running spa tub for you to splash around in to a highly toxic fumigated roach motel about to be hit by the high winds of a hurricane. Or, so I imagine that’s what happens. I’m not a trained medical professional.
The side effects of magnesium sulfate are numerous and all equally unpleasant. They can range from mild nausea to intense sea-sickness-style dizziness and vomiting; from a slight loss of energy to practically paralyzing muscle weakness; from a tolerable headache that feels roughly like a hole being drilled in your skull to an antagonizingly obnoxious migraine like a Grand Canyon being carved into your brain. From the first two items on the menu, I had option A. From the last item, option B.
My headache was so bad, I could also barely see. My double-vision progressed to the point where everything looked like a 3D movie without the glasses, and eventually, I just stopped trying to look at the world. I closed my eyes to a darkness that would have been comforting if I’d been able to sleep, but that–and eating–wasn’t to happen until at least day four in the hospital.
Here’s where it gets awful, Lily, so if you can’t read on, I understand.
In between reeling bouts of brain ache, ham-handed nurses came to jam their arms, up to the elbow, inside of me with fists that felt to be the same size and softness as regulation baseballs. These, I was told, were cervix checks and not, I was assured, vag-punch punishments for crimes I had committed in a past life. Every 12 hours or so for the next 48, I was given another dose of a cervix-ripening agent, alternating between Cytotec and Cervidil, one of which was given orally and the other implanted vaginally, though I can’t, for the life of me, remember at this point which was which. Though each step of the process thus far was painful, I tried to quell my fears. After all, I hadn’t even hit the most painful part, right? I had not yet begun to
Off and on for two days straight, contractions would build, raising my hopes, and then disappear, dashing them. The pain of those contractions reminded me, ironically, of being a kid again. Every year until I was nine, my sister (your Aunt Loren) and I would wade deep out into the waters of Virginia Beach to play at wave jumping. Walls of ocean would rise towards us–eliciting an exhilarating and unique brand of panic–and then we would leap into the air when their peaks approached, attempting to let the water jolt our bodies up and knock them around with the tide. Most times we were successful, but occasionally a wave would slam one of us end over end, and then we’d tumble turn like a sock in a dryer under the disorienting brown waters until we could raise our heads back up and get our bearings by looking towards the shore again. That’s what those contractions felt like–petrifying forces of nature I just had to ride out with the hopes that they wouldn’t suck me under.
The physicality of it all was one thing, but the emotional anguish as I approached the 48-hour mark became far harder to bear. I’ve spent my entire life post-puberty wrestling with depression and anxiety and once I found out I had preeclampsia, it was like Panic became my Lamaze partner. Though your dad was there, Lily, supporting me all the way, Panic breathed when I breathed. Panic told me to stress out when the room wasn’t ready; then Panic told me the IV mag was going to permanently blind me. Panic held my hand with a vice grip with each contraction’s painful pulse, twisting my wrist and whispering, “You won’t be enough.” And Panic cackled in victory when, finally, the doctor–assessing my health and my emotional state and my still-increasing BPs–declared that I was “decompensating,” and it was time to progress to Plan C(-section).
Sidebar, Lily: When I called your Grandpa Edward to tell him this, he heard “decompensating” as “decomposing” and bizarrely imagined in his own panicked state that I was rotting in the hospital like a pregnant zombie too sick to further shamble. He hopped in the car that instant and drove the five and a half hours it took to get to us. Further proof that everyone, not just your very sick mommy, wanted desperately to meet you.