At 20 weeks pregnant with my first baby, I began feeling achy, tired and run down. Normal pregnancy symptoms, right? That was until I gained 12 pounds over one weekend. Preeclampsia was setting in quickly. And so were the final days of my pregnancy.
Midweek, I arrived at the obstetrician’s office for a quick checkup on my work lunch break. It didn’t take long for the staff to see what I had ignored for a few weeks. I’d been having short dizzy spells. My limbs were swelling. My back ached. I had terrible heartburn, especially at night. However, nothing I’d thought to tell a doctor about. A quick check of my vitals confirmed it: severely high blood pressure and deteriorating vitals.
I remember calling my husband and trying to explain why I wouldn’t be home after work. I remember nurses removing my phone from my hand, my purse from my arm and laying me down on a stretcher. I was whisked away to check in to the hospital with my work clothes still on. I remember wishing I had on a cuter outfit. I still didn’t realize that my choices on the matter were slowly slipping away.
The baby had shown signs of restricted growth at a recent checkup, measuring closer to 16 weeks gestation than the 20 weeks I was. The doctors seemed more cautious than concerned. I wasn’t showing signs of distress. So I tried to stay optimistic.
Because of the restricted growth, we hadn’t yet identified the baby’s gender. People sent gifts in tones of white, green and yellow. We began buying generic, unisex baby items. I loosely began planning dates for a baby shower.
These were the details that swarmed in my head when the doctor told me I was being induced. I wanted to scream:
“But we don’t have a name chosen!”
“We don’t have all the baby gear we need!”
The doctor calmly explained that the induction was to save my life. At 20 weeks, the baby wasn’t viable.
On a stormy day in May 2008, my husband and I had to make terrible decisions. Decisions I wouldn’t wish on an enemy. Some I regret. But we did the best we could.
We had to go back to a home filled with baby things with a packet that included footprints of a child we would never be able to hold.
I felt like losing the baby was all my fault. Of course, it was not. Friends and family checked in on me but didn’t ask questions. I liked it that way. I was still ashamed. I didn’t know anyone my age who had lost a child.
Many people were unsure how to relate to me. With only my husband to talk to—and trust me, I tried to avoid that to protect him—it slowly began to feel like that baby had never happened. Like it was a movie I had seen or a dream I was vaguely recalling.
Then, one day on my morning commute, I saw a billboard for March of Dimes with the image of a tiny, fragile baby that I couldn’t shake. I looked online for my local chapter and reached out, asking how I could help. I thought maybe they’d have me fold brochures or man a phone bank asking for money. Instead, I was invited to join the local board of directors where I met other preemie parents for the first time. I learned I could make an immense difference for moms just like me through advocacy and fundraising for research. Talking about my story was now a benefit and not an embarrassment. I’ll be forever grateful for the opportunity to find my voice as a mom even though, at that time, I had no baby at home.
While a full panel of tests didn’t show a definitive reason for my early preeclampsia with my first pregnancy, it did show an underlying genetic mutation called MTHFR, an abbreviation for methylenetetrahydrofolate. Without providing a science lesson (though here is a helpful overview), a common known side effect is a higher risk for difficult pregnancies. Frankly, while a lot is known about the condition, experts learn more every day.
I was watched closely by doctors and took a variety of medications during my next two pregnancies. My daughter, Natalie, was born in 2010 at 32 weeks. My daughter, Olivia, was born in 2015 at 31 weeks. It seemed my body disliked that third trimester.
And while I can’t offer much advice to a mom who is 41 weeks pregnant and overdue, I can encourage a mom whose baby is born too soon. Who faces weeks ahead of her in NICU. Who, at some point, has to drive away from her baby counting down the hours until she can next be by their side. Who is counting down to the moment she can hold her baby for the first time.
As preemie moms, we each have a unique, personal story. And yet, we are similar in many ways.
THAT is what I want to celebrate at Preemie Mom Camp—the similar experiences that bond us and make us stronger.
Tell your story
Once a week I’ll feature a new preemie mom story on the blog that we can celebrate together.
Do you want to tell your story? Do you know a preemie mom that should be featured? Submit your story here!