I woke up at about 1:20 am this morning and lay awake for a while thinking about what was going on 11 years ago at that moment. I was on an operating table, numb from the tits down, my arms outstretched and bound. And, no, it wasn’t a super kinky medical scene. My daughter was about to emerge from my body, alien-style, rather than through the opening created for that purpose.
I was only 31 weeks pregnant, my body hadn’t even considered going into labor. I was having an emergency c-section because I’d die otherwise. There wasn’t any time to wait and see if I’d improve: pre-eclampsia, or gestational hyper-tension, has one cure — giving birth. And I had an extra bundle of life-threatening symptoms, called HELLP syndrome, which meant my liver was failing, I was becoming rapidly more anemic and my platelet count was dropping. So ready or not, it was time for my daughter to come into the world. They had to do it before my platelet count dropped so low I couldn’t clot. Or my liver failed, or .. well, there was basically no waiting.
Prior to that moment, I’d been on bed-rest, which I considered about as pleasurable as teeth pulling without anesthesia. My wife and I were prepared for me to be on my back for as many weeks as it took to keep the baby gestating. As it happened, I was on bed rest for about 4 days, as my condition rapidly worsened. I had blood taken and tested a couple of times after the initial diagnosis, and those tests led my midwife to reduce her prediction from weeks to maybe a week, or slightly more. My body was not handling late pregnancy well at all.
This all started Wednesday, and by Sunday, I felt horrible. I had band-pain under my ribs that initially felt like a back ache. My midwife suggested I try soaking in the tub, we were both hoping this was my body’s reaction to the bedrest. Instead, the pain increased, and I had a hard time breathing — as if it weren’t already hard enough with an entire human being plus living space taking up most of my torso. I started feeling nauseous, did I have the flu? My wife had been sick the day before, throwing up and feeling miserable. Upon hearing that I was close to puking, my midwife told us to get to the hospital, that she’d meet us there.
I threw up at the check in desk, into a garbage can. I was hustled into a wheel chair and taken to maternity, where I was hooked up to monitors, given magnesium sulfate. Blood tests showed that my indicators had all worsened a lot more since the test on Friday. Our midwife told us that we’d be parents in a matter of days, rather than weeks. We went to our local hospital sometime after 4 pm and I was in an ambulance heading to Seattle’s Swedish Medical Center a few hours later.
This part of the experience is blurry for me. The mag sulfate acted like alcohol on my brain, making it hard to keep track of the passage of time, sequence of events, or people I met and talked to — basically, it was a partial black-out. What I do recall is that we were completely unprepared for this acceleration of events. It was more than 2 months before my due date, we hadn’t packed a hospital bag, we didn’t have our address book (this is well before we had cell phones) and we were certainly not prepared to suddenly be out of town. After getting to the hospital, my wife called our best friend to bring her up to date and to request she go by our house and pick up a few things. Best Friend and my parents were at the hospital by 11 pm. Hospital staff was still doing tests and tracking my condition. My brand new OB doc showed up and requested an ultrasound to see how our baby was doing. That’s when we found out she was much smaller than she should have been at 31 weeks, about half the normal size in fact. Based on that and the fact that my blood test results kept coming back with worse and worse numbers, we were told we’d become parents in just a couple of hours.
At 1 am, I was in surgery, spinal block administered and abdomen iodined. As my surgery began, a small group (2-3) nurses gathered in one corner of the room with a small plastic box on wheels. I realized, slowly through my drugged fogginess, that they were there for my baby. My baby had her own staff of specialists already.
At 1:34 am, Mrs. Kyle and I welcomed our daughter into the world. Well, by welcomed, I mean, we breathed a sigh of relief as soon as we heard her voice, crying in that classic just-born way. The baby team took charge and was about to whisk her off to the NICU when I asked to see her. I knew I couldn’t hold her, but I needed to see her face at least. And that’s what I got, a glimpse of her face, held up inside the plastic box, from across the room. A Tiny little face, all wrinkled and red, but definitely alive.
My wife went with the baby, I went to the recovery room. After about 20 minutes, my wife rejoined me and told me about the baby and all the things going on to take care of her. She was tiny-tiny, only 2 lbs 3 ozs and 14 inches long. She was being hooked up to all kinds of monitors and machines but she was breathing on her own.
I got to see her again, briefly. I got to see the Spawn again, once all the numbness had passed — I was cursing my left foot because it took so long. They wheeled me up in my gurney, and I shifted over on my side so I could peer at her through the thick plastic of the isolette. She looked like a little alien, all skin and bones, wrinkled and wizened. In fact, she looked a lot like my Dad. The only muscle she had on her tiny body was in her calves.. and I can attest to her use of those muscles to kick me with.
I was in the hospital for 4 days, the Spawn was in the NICU for 3 weeks and in the nursery at Olympia for another 3 weeks. I gave birth on a Monday and the following Monday, I was back at work part-time. There was no sense staying home, I didn’t have a baby to take care of and gush over. When we finally brought her home, she weighed 3 lbs and 14 ozs, still tiny but very healthy. She never had any of the big scary health issues a lot of preemies have, being able t0 breath on her own from the start and surprised her nurses and doctors at every turn with the progress she made. She was early, and tiny, but a fighter and full of personality from the start.
Here she is at 41 hours old, getting a little bit of skin time with me. She could only be out of her isolette for small amounts of time a day. She was so little, with her knees tucked up, she fit right into my cleavage. She looked like a little kangaroo baby, not wanting to be out of her pouch.
Happy birthday to my Elder Spawn, who is now a very big girl, a beautiful daughter and a wonderful older sister. You bring so much joy, and also challenge, to my life, which is as it should be. Thank you for being so amazing.
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