A Preemie’s First Birthday: Mommy’s View

As we neared the days before Owen’s birthday I was struck by the juxtaposition of the emotions that I felt.  First and foremost were pride and joy.  The further we’ve gotten away from the NICU, doctors have been more and more candid that they weren’t so sure he would be with us for his first birthday.  Owen defied odds and expectations and has accomplished so much in his first year and he did much of it with a smile.  He’s done everything that’s been asked of him and inspired so many people.  I am both humbled by him and proud to be his mother.  At the same time, I am able to separate Owen and his accomplishments from April 21, 2011.

There are certain events in Owen’s life that I remember every precise detail in slow motion.  The smell and appearances of the room, the look of the doctors and nurses, what I was wearing, what was said…everything.  I call them my Techno Colored Memories.  The early morning of April 21, 2011 is one of those memories.

I remember calling the nurse to tell them I was having some symptoms.  I picked up my iPhone and looked at the clock, it was 3:22 AM.  I put my head in the pillow hoping they’d think it was nothing.  I didn’t feel contractions, but I didn’t feel great and hoped to get back to sleep soon.  Then I heard something being wheeled and several feet running down the hall.  3 women in scrubs entered the room with a sterile exam table.  One nurse demanded the evidence I reported.  The resident stood down by my feet, I could feel her eyes looking over my whole body assessing what she was seeing.  Another nurse hooked the baby monitor to my belly.  The resident checked my cervix and said “let me clean up and I will explain what I’m seeing”.  My heart sank, I knew she needed the time to collect her thoughts on what she was about to do and how to tell me.  When she spoke, she told me I was 3 CM dilated and I stared back at her with pure hate.  I’ve never felt that type of hate before. Just the day before, a Nurse Practioner from the NICU had sat down with Kyle and I explained that if we had a baby boy now, he had a 40% chance of surviving and even if he does survive, he will likely have long-term issues.  And now, how dare this woman be telling me I am in labor?  He’s NOT ready!  I am not ready.  She told me, “we will try to stop this”.  Minutes later, I was in the fetal position and my entire body was shaking.  I’m not sure if it was contractions, fear or anger but it doesn’t really matter.  It didn’t last long.  Less than 2 hours later, Owen was born.  The fear and anger were gone and I was just sad.  Sad that my baby had to do the fighting on his own.  Not guilty, just profoundly sad.

There aren’t many other moments of that day that I remember very well.  I remember the beautiful sunrise right after he was born, it was gorgeous golds and reds.  I remember seeing Owen for the first time.  I steeled myself, but am pretty sure my gasp was audible when I saw him – so tiny, eyes still fused, ventilator tapes covering most of his face.  I touched him and his skin was sticky.  I am not sure who the nurse was.  I can vaguely hear Jenny’s voice in my ear, but I can’t be certain it was she that morning.  After seeing Owen, I went back to my room and called my friend Sarah and cried as I told her Owen was born.  I remember being struck by the absurdity of people say “congratulations” to us.  Only one Doctor got it right, in my mind.  He had been the attending in Antipartum that week and he said, “I’m sorry we couldn’t keep you pregnant longer”.  I will never forget those words.

His sentiments are exactly why Owen’s birthday is bittersweet to me.  I am so happy to have Owen as my son, but I am really sad that April 21st is when he was born.  This year, as I celebrated my miracle baby boy and all that he has done, I also grieved the pregnancy I didn’t get to finish. I accept where we are and somehow believe I’m going to be a better person for it, but also wish he could have been my little baby, not my micro baby.

Left, Owen with Tatum’s hand April 21, 2011. Right, Owen and Tatum April 21, 2012.