I'm not quite 24 weeks pregnant yet and on Monday my water broke. Not even my Irish gallows humor was able to stand up to the seriousness of the situation as Peter and I went to the hospital to have the situation assessed. It was obvious that my water had broken--I had a ruptured membrane with Thomas at 31 weeks (though he didn't deliver until 32) and my water broke with Anna at 37 weeks. But this was so entirely unexpected that I didn't know what to make of it at first. My water broke? really? We drove to the hospital and I knew that there was really nothing they could do. I'd been down this road before with Thomas--the early delivery, the weeks in the NICU, learning to care for a premature baby. I knew what was involved with babies born at 32 weeks and I had a very good idea of what the NICU experience would look like for a baby born earlier, if the baby lived at all.
I lay on the bed as the nurse hooked me up to the fetal monitors. I couldn't breathe and all I could think was "What are we going to tell the kids?" I was so mad at my stupid, broken body. Why couldn't I grow a membrane like other women? Why do my pregnancies always have to be like this? I was about to loose a perfectly good, healthy baby because my body didn't know how to carry babies.
I don't remember what happened next, but I was wheeled down the hall into a labor & delivery room they use to stabilize their pre-term labor patients. They did the tests they do in situations like this and hooked me up to antibiotics in case of infection and magnesium sulfate in case of contractions. They hooked up the fetal monitors and called in the specialists. They wheeled in an ultrasound machine and they poked and prodded and then the neonatal specialists came in. There were IVs and so many things happening that it still makes my head spin. A doctor gave me run-down of what I could expect if I delivered at 24 weeks and then he talked about how that improved with every week the baby spent in the womb. One of the super-duper specialists came in, did the ultrasound, and very optimistically said that she expected me to keep the baby in for another 3-4 weeks, at least. I started being able to breath again. A very little.
The next day another specialist came in and gave an even more optimistic assessment when she informed me that they keep many women in my situation for months before delivering and that it wouldn't be unrealistic to expect me to be able to carry this baby to 32, even 34 weeks gestation. Rosy pictures, indeed.
All of this, of course, is barring any infections I might get with my water broken. I'm still not 24 weeks along yet and it is still so, so early. The survival rates at this point are 60-70%, which is good, but the difference between here and, say, 28 weeks, is the difference between our baby surviving and our baby doing well. And it is a long, long road between where I am tonight, sitting alone in a hospital room, and taking home a nearly full-term baby. I won't even think of all of the milestones I need to hit along the way--26 wks, 27 wks, 28 wks, 30 wks, 32 wks--all of which would still leave my baby in a very challenging position, if not as precarious as I had originally thought when I walked in the hospital doors.
Part of me is curled up inside, thinking of how powerfully difficult it was to care for a premature baby before, how I prayed to God to never let it happen again because I just didn't have the strength to go through it one more time. Then Anna came, beautifully full-term and as peaceful as a rose. We'll ignore the trauma of her emergency c-section for now because I thought that the NICU was far, far behind me. It was almost like I was healed.
Now here I am again, with the real possibility that it could not only happen again, but this time it could be much, much worse. My logic and reason is fried. I cannot make sense of this. But I do remember the grace I found in the middle of Thomas's situation. I remember how glad I was that he was born so strong and healthy, even if he was premature. I remember how the doctors and nurses warned me that he might not cry when he was born because his lungs might be weak and underdeveloped, but that when he was born he did cry, loud and mad. I remember how quickly he matured in the NICU and how he came home a whole week before anyone though he'd be able to. I remember the grace that was there. But it was grace in the middle of a horrible storm, certainly not a storm anyone would want to face twice.
And this situation, the extreme prematurity aside, has challenges I've only contemplated in the abstract. What would Peter do with the children if I weren't there? What would their lives look like without me to care for them? I'm the only one I want mothering my children, but now I can't do the simplest things for them. I am so far removed from their daily routine that I couldn't tell you what they ate for breakfast or lunch. Anna fell down and scraped her leg yesterday and I didn't get to put a Band-aid on her knee. These are small, trivial things, but so much of motherhood is made up of the small, care-taking tasks that I am at loose ends imagining what I can be to these small children without them. I worry that they will forget what it is like to have me caring for them; what it is like to have me around as a part of their lives. They come for short visits once a day, though tomorrow they won't make it to the hospital at all. They stay for an hour, maybe two if we watch some TV. We curl up in bed together and they run around the hospital room and make a ruckus. And then they're gone.
The boredom of bed rest is a challenge, to be sure. The physical difficulty of remaining in bed is going to be more and more apparent as the days and weeks (God be merciful!) roll on. But the thing I find hardest to bear is being away from my children, away from my family, and away from my home. I'm grieving the loss of what this pregnancy should have been as I try to come to terms with how my relationship to my kids will change as I miss these (hopefully!) months from their daily lives. I am slowly giving those months up as I reach for the hope that this baby I'm carrying will hang out a while longer in my womb. Much longer. I have no idea what the next few weeks will bring for me or my family, but I'm trying to be hopeful for the best outcome. I know that eventually, the children will adjust both to me being gone and to me returning home. I'm just praying with all the faith I have that God will hold back any infection so that He can finish knitting this baby together in my womb, where he or she is meant to be.
Wish me luck, and please pray with me. My bottom may forever resemble the bend of a hospital bed, but I'd gladly take that shape in order to have a healthy, strong 34 week baby and a short stay in the NICU. I'm just looking forward to the day when I can go home again and our family can be together.