Because it's hard to get an appointment with a specialist and harder still to find a babysitter for the pocket of time right after school, the two of us ended up in a waiting room for a check up with my thyroid doctor.
When you see a specialist in our town, there aren't a lot of buildings you can end up in. It was not surprising that we found ourselves in the same building as the obstetrician's office — where I was seen during my pregnancy with her.
But it felt meaningful that the offices in a building with four floors, they would be directly next to one another. And I spent most of our time in the waiting room stealing glances at the wall that separated the two spaces — like it was a monument for the before and after of her arrival.
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I was grumpy the first time I visited my obstetrician; I didn't want to be there. I had been followed by midwives for my other pregnancies and preferred that model of care. I was transferred to an OB because of my autoimmune diagnosis months before we conceived. It put my pregnancy into the high-risk category, and I needed to be followed closely. The specialists planned bi-weekly blood tests and told me not to get too worried about how my thyroid (and the medication I had to take to regulate it) would impact the pregnancy.
Everything went well until my 26th week. I was seeing the OB every four weeks at that point (and I had become quite attached to her actually) and feeling great — like I always do when I'm pregnant. I had three kids under the age of seven at home and a couple of senior dogs. Life was hectic, of course, but I was handling it well.
That night, we had plans to go on a sleigh ride through the woods, where we would meet Santa in a cabin and drink hot cocoa. We had our five-year-old nephew with us, too. My sister was on her way to meet us. I'd been feeling back pain and crampy all day, but I had also been running around getting some Christmas shopping done while the kids were in school, so I told myself I'd feel better once I got through the last part of the day.
We drove further and further from our town (and my OB) and into a more rural area, outside a smaller town. Right before we were meant to turn off onto a country road, I saw the blue sign for a hospital. I very calmly turned to JB in the driver's seat and said,
I think you should drop me off there and go ahead with the kids. Just pick me up on your way back, I'm going to get checked. I'm sure it's nothing.
Of course I wanted him to stay with me, because as soon as I said it out loud I got scared. But I stayed focused on keeping the kids calm and letting them have their Santa experience. He must have heard something in my voice though, because he pulled into the ambulance bay and told me he'd meet my sister with the kids and come back.
Mommy is going to let Daddy take you to see Santa, okay? My tummy is feeling a little upset, and I just want to let the doctor know.
I walked into an unfamiliar ER and approached the triage desk, where I heard my voice say,
I'm 26 weeks pregnant, and I'm in labour.
Pre-term labour was a remote possibility with an overactive thyroid. I muttered to myself about Braxton Hicks and took a seat, while I counted minutes between contractions. When they were three minutes apart, I stood up and returned to the triage.
Is this your first pregnancy?
It's my fourth. Something is wrong.
Labour and delivery came and met me with a wheelchair, and I was brought into an observation room and hooked up to monitors to check my uterus for contractions and the baby's heart rate for distress.
You must have a high pain threshold, someone in the room said.
I had been making small talk with the nurses, telling them not to fuss, apologizing for creating a scene. Within minutes I was in a gown and turned on my side to receive steroid injections for my baby's lungs. I started to shake, and I didn't stop for the next 24 hours.
An IV was started and medication to stop the contractions was administered. Blood was drawn and swabs were taken. Someone called JB on his cell phone.
Will the baby be okay?
I heard them tell me that his/her prognosis would be good if we could find a bed in a hospital with a top-level NICU and that phone calls were being made. I was either going to be flown by helicopter to the U.S. or taken by ambulance to a hospital in Toronto.
Oh that sounds like so much trouble, I'm sure it's just because I was running around too much today.
I think I got another steroid shot before being loaded into the back of a waiting ambulance. The nurse who had been caring for me climbed on board, with another syringe of steroids and told me she had to stay with me until my care was transferred.
Just before the doors of the ambulance closed, I heard JB's voice call out,
Where are you taking her? Why is she in an ambulance?
The nurse stepped out and updated him, and I heard him say he was going to follow in his car. My sister would take the kids home and stay with them. I felt such relief that she was there. Years later, I still do.
I asked why they were using the sirens and she distracted me by telling a story about how hard it was to get Taylor Swift tickets for her daughter, who was the same age as mine. I had managed to get tickets to a show in Toronto, while she had to get tickets to the show in Buffalo. We joked about the lengths mothers will go to make their kids happy, and then I started to cry.
Will the baby be okay?
She held my hand.
The only bed they had for me (which allowed me to at least stay within driving distance of our family) was in a room with three other women, who were also experiencing high-risk pregnancies. It was late by then, and I was still shaking terribly.
JB followed me from their triage area (where I had received more medication to stop the contractions) to the room and was immediately told he had to leave, but was welcome to stay in the hallway (because it wasn't a private room).
I'll never forget the kindness of one of the nurses there.
It's so late, everyone is asleep. Can't we let him stay with her for the night? She's scared.
I didn't want to let go of his hand. But with three young kids at home, we decided there was nothing he could do and that he should go to them and wait for news.
I spent the next three days on strict bed rest, while being monitored for any sign that the contractions would return. The medication they administer to stop the contractions causes some women to have a debilitating headache. I was one of those women. But I stayed focused on the positive. My brother-in-law rode his bike to the hospital with magazines, socks and slippers. It was so good to see a familiar and concerned face. We had family and friends rooting for us.
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I got used to the ebb and flow of activity around me. There were two women in beds across from me that seemed to have strict restrictions, too. Like me, they only left their beds to use the bathroom. I couldn't see the young woman beside me, because we kept the curtains drawn around our beds. I could see her feet shuffling around her space like she was in a tiny apartment; she moved things around and reorganized her space most of the day. She had a lot of plastic grocery bags that she rifled through. It didn't take too long to realize she had already given birth. She spent a lot of her day on the phone, calling numerous people.
Do you think you'll come and see the baby?
She asked every person who picked up on on the other end. I couldn't understand why she wasn't going to see her baby? I had been there two days by then, and she hadn't once left the room. Finally, a team of doctors came in to speak to her, and we all listened through our curtain walls.
Like me, she had gone into labour at 26 weeks. But they hadn't been able to stop her labour, and she had a daughter who was in the NICU. It was her third child, and she herself was still a child.
I wanted to get out of bed and go to the NICU to see that baby girl. I wanted to know if my baby was going to be okay. I was scared. I wanted to hug the mom in the bed next to mine. We were different, but also the same.
The doctors moved into my space next and reassured me they were feeling confident my labour had been stopped. That I would have an ultrasound later that day to check my cervix hadn't dilated any further. And if that looked okay, I would be sent home on modified bed rest, with more frequent OB appointments.
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Awhile later, my roommate finally got her first visitor and they left the room together to see the baby. I was relieved for all of them.
In the afternoon, after a quick field trip to the bathroom, I came back to my space and sat down. The curtain beside me moved and the young mom approached my bed and handed me a chocolate bar from the vending machine.
I'm glad your baby is okay, too.
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Baby and I spent 10 more weeks hanging out together, before I finally went into labour a month early. We weren't feeling as worried by then — she had had the full treatment of steroids for her lungs, and we were able to deliver in our local hospital. She had to stay a few extra days to watch her jaundice and to make sure she didn't stop breathing when she was buckled into her car seat.
They had me put her into the seat in the middle of the night and bring her into the PICU, where she was hooked up to oxygen monitors. She had to maintain her oxygen saturation for a full 30 minutes to pass the test. I pulled up a seat and sat down and a nurse looked over at me,
You can go back to your room and get some rest. You don't need to stay with her.
I had no intention of going anywhere without my baby and if she did have any trouble with her breathing, I was going to be there to reassure her.
I want to make sure my baby is okay.
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My eyes go back to that wall, and the last time I was there — with a six-week-old baby, ready to graduate from our OB care.
Today she is drawing Mama and me on the grass under some funny clouds with a sun and some birds, and I am watching, while we wait for my name to be called.
I don't care about time. I would be happy to have this waiting go on awhile longer.
It feels like we're stealing a moment.
I got a happy ending, so I used to tell myself there wasn't a story to tell.
But any experience that changes you is a story.
And being in this space again reminds me that the months leading up to her birth changed me.
Today we'll walk out of that building together again, except this time she'll hold my hand.
She is now five.
And my baby, she is okay.