I believe in the power of testimony. I think, in this political moment, the testimony of women is more important than ever. This is mine.
For several months, I had listened to my OB-GYN tell me that I was having the healthiest pregnancy he had ever seen in his career. A former marathoner, I was still running several miles a day at the beginning of my third trimester. I had slowed to eight-minute splits from my pre-pregnancy six minutes or less, but I didn’t even break a sweat lugging my growing belly around. In fact, I had only weeks before confessed to my coworkers that I was even pregnant. I was so fit going into my pregnancy that almost no one had noticed. I was doing everything right. I managed my diet like it was a second full-time job. I took the right vitamins. All of my ultrasounds revealed a happy, healthy baby.
In one night, it all went spectacularly wrong.
My husband was out with his friends for their weekly game night. I stayed home, watching the end of the first season of Downton Abbey. In the last episode, one of the main characters, the victim of an evil plot, slipped getting out of the bathtub and ended up having a miscarriage. I went to bed feeling sick at the thought. But in those hours, in the real world, my own pregnancy was taking a turn for the worse. I started feeling the pangs of labor. I called the doctor on call at the hospital, and they told me it was way too early for me to be in labor. “You are early in your third trimester,” they said. “Go back to bed, it’s probably false labor pains.”
I tried to sleep, but I could not. My husband returned home, and I told him about all of it. He agreed with the doctors. I just needed to chill out. Even now, I regret not getting in the car and driving to the emergency room of another hospital then and there.
For the rest of the weekend, I was still having what felt like labor pains. I went for a five-mile hike to distract myself from what I thought were false labor pains. It was way too early to be going into labor, I kept telling myself. I was so far away from the time women usually give birth that I had not even registered for birthing classes. I still had no idea how to have a baby. It wasn’t real. My body was telling me otherwise, however. My belly was getting smaller. It was leaking. A lot.
My regular OB-GYN appointment was the next day. I could make it until then. I would learn what was happening to us. And by “us,” I mean me and the baby. What was happening to one was clearly happening to the other.
Like a good manager, I went to work and did my normal chores. Then I drove to my doctor’s office. Checked in. Passed time sitting in the waiting room flipping through magazines about parenthood. Passed time waiting in the examination room. A doctor I did not know was on rotation to see me. After a very brief examination, she started screaming for a wheelchair to move me to the hospital immediately.
“You are having this baby right now,” she shouted at me. I was terrified at the scope of my own ignorance in everything involving childbirth. And here I was in an emergency situation.
We had not even picked out a name for our daughter yet. It was something we had postponed because we could not agree on anything. Was I going to give birth to a Jane Doe? How would we explain that to her?
I did not understand that it was a bona fide miracle that my daughter was still alive at that point. My belly had drained of fluid, and every move she made meant she could be sitting on her umbilical cord – which for a baby was essentially choking. My risk of infection was insane. They wouldn’t even allow me to use the restroom.
The doctors in the hospital had different opinions about how to proceed. To give the baby every chance at a normal life, I was supposed to get injections of antibiotics to stave off infection and injections of a cocktail that would protect the baby neurologically. We were living in a small town outside of a small town and I was about to give birth at a regional hospital that I had never intended to give birth at. But those emergency decisions by small town doctors saved our baby. And me.
I spent three days drinking as much water as I could physically stand to drink, in an attempt to keep water in my leaking womb, and laying on my side. This was all to keep the baby sort of floating around and not sitting on her umbilical cord. The baby just had to hold on long enough for the drugs to have an effect. She did. But my body kept defying the drug cocktail I was being given and going into labor. I spent all of those days watching the monitors hooked up to my abdomen. The baby was still alive. That was the only thing that mattered in the midst of all this chaos. She was still alive.
We spent those three days trying to think up a name for her. Our funniest compromise was on her middle name, Aurelie, the French derivative of the Latin “golden.” A message to our daughter that she was precious.
Very late at night, the doctor came in and explained that we could not keep this up much longer. I needed to go into surgery right then and there to save the baby. I had wanted more than anything to have a natural birth. I had never been hospitalized before, let alone endured major surgery. The baby would most certainly die, the doctor said. Possibly you would too, he added. Stoically, as if both details were nothing. C-sections are a big deal, he explained, but they are the most common surgeries performed in the United States. Take it or leave it.
I pondered what hospital staffing was like at almost midnight. What a terrible time to go into surgery. But there was no choice. It blows my mind to think, in retrospect, that if I had lived in a state like California or New York, the doctor would be talking to me about abortion under the same circumstances. It seems like taking advantage of someone’s mental state and the swirling fears that come with these events. Like exploitation. You might die, so put the thought of motherhood out of your mind and kill the source of your distress. I often look at our daughter now and think about how blessed I was that, in those precious moments, we were settled in a culture that valued life.
My husband and I had a brief moment before I was transferred to the operating room to exchange I love yous. I was wheeled into a cavernous, cold, sterile, and honestly kind of dark, operating room. Whatever terror I thought I was experiencing before, this was so much worse.
The nurses were doing true women’s work in those moments. They were keeping me sane and telling me that it was all going to be okay. They weren’t midwives, but they understood the power of a woman telling another woman that she and the baby would be just fine. They had seen it all before. They had done it all before. Women have been doing this for thousands of years. I was not the precedent. I trusted them and it mattered. Sit up on the metal table and bend over, they said. A giant needle went into my spine. It was happening, whether I liked it or not. But I was not alone.
The doctor told me that he would have the baby out of me in less than fifteen minutes. The baby would be very small, but she’d be just fine.
For ten minutes, the doctor tried to distract me from the fact of surgery by talking about marathons. He was a marathoner. I was a marathoner. Tell me about your races. Meanwhile, he was pulling the guts out of my torso and freeing a baby that was in critical condition. I could not see any of it. It was just a sensation of pulling, again and again and again.
Within moments, a screaming, perfect baby was held up to my face. I was stuck in the unforgettable stasis of love at first sight. We had finally met. We were a family.
I was soldered and sewn up, ignoring the smell of my flesh and parts with the joy that I was now a mother, and sent to recovery, where a belated deluge of hormones intended to eliminate the sensation of childbirth washed over me. I shook uncontrollably for hours.
Terrible things started to unfold. Things that made the earlier issues seem like trifles.
I was alone in my room. No one brought the baby in to see me. Within hours, I would understand that our child was in desperate need of medical attention and would be transferred to the region’s children’s hospital for special treatment. I had to remain in the hospital to heal from surgery. I could not be moved. She had to be moved. Hopefully she would survive transport. The doctors minced no words that she might not.
I told my husband to forget about me and follow our baby. She needed an advocate and I did not. He did. For five minutes, I was allowed to see our daughter in her incubator before she was loaded into a special ambulance for transport 50 miles away. I had no idea what to say except that everything would be okay. We’d see each other again. I had the chance to talk to the people on that ambulance later. She almost died twice on the way to the new hospital. But she made it. Even years later, the people who worked on that ambulance remembered her name.
She only weighed a couple pounds, but looked in every way like a baby. I had no idea how much intelligence and fight she already possessed, there, being born when I was days into my third trimester.
There’s a fun story that our daughter now loves to tell about how my mother-in-law busted me out of the hospital and then drove me to the children’s hospital where she was.
I was ripped open from abdominal surgery, but I was so scared for the baby that I was pacing back and forth in my hospital room within hours. I was in excruciating pain, but it did not matter. Eventually, I was doing that in the hall just to prove to the doctors that I could walk and was okay to release. Hormones are amazing this way. Your body is constructed to protect your young, even at a tremendous price to yourself. It’s nature’s way of telling you that this is what you were made for.
They told me that I was stuck there in the hospital for 36 hours at least. I was hysterical with grief and fear. I might miss her entire life sitting in some shithole regional hospital room. Because I had a wound.
I could see my car sitting in the parking lot from the hospital window. Exactly where I had parked it days earlier, when I thought I was going to a regular doctor’s appointment and had no idea all of this was coming. I finally asked the doctor whether they could legally stop me from walking out of the hospital and getting in my car. He tried to reason with me, which is laughable now. How would I check my blind spot when I could not even turn my body from the surgical wound? I did not care if it ripped my stomach open in the meantime. I would make it to where the baby was.
Finally, my mother-in-law arrived from Georgia. She convinced the hospital staff to release me to her care. She drove me to the NICU where our daughter was. It was indeed an excruciating trip. With every pothole in the freeway, I screamed in pain and felt like I was being torn open again. But we made it. I was there. We were all there. Our family.
I was surprised by all the work that had been done in my absence to stabilize our daughter. She had been born with significant birth defects, all affecting internal organs, and all caused by de novo genetic defects. (This means they have no idea where they came from scientifically. Yes, medically uncertainty still exists this day and age.) Her problems actually had no connection to being born prematurely. Her premature birth was likely a chemical sign she needed help. They say birth is triggered by the baby sending chemical messages to the mother that it is time. In her case, it was time.
The first time I saw our daughter in that hospital, her neurologist was hovering over her.
“I have never seen this before,” he said.
“What?” I asked. I was expecting more horrible, unfathomable news.
“You see how I move my pen and she follows it with her eyes? She even moves her eyes to follow who is speaking. I have not seen that with a newborn, let alone a newborn that was so premature.”
Indeed, she could not physically move her head, but she was making an effort to listen to whomever was speaking.
“What does that mean?” I asked.
“If I were to guess, I’d say that you have a very intelligent daughter. Her brain is extraordinarily developed given all that has happened. Perhaps she will be a prodigy?” he said. He shook his head and continued on his rounds. She became a favorite of his, and he checked in on her all the time.
Whatever interest I might have had in her intelligence at that point was quickly subordinated to concerns about her survival. She spent 100 days of her first year in the hospital. My husband and I were there with her every step of the way. She wooed every doctor and nurse that had the chance to take care of her. They loved seeing her progress and loved how she watched every move they made. She had the fight in her. She had a role in her own care.
With several surgeries, her problems were completely cured. I’m not going to lie, those were dark, dark months. But she is now a completely “normal” child physically. It’s like none of this ever occurred.
Her neurologist was correct. She is profoundly gifted intellectually. We ended up homeschooling her because she was functioning several grade levels ahead of her peers before she entered kindergarten. Her development wasn’t stunted by being premature; she was in fact way, way ahead.
Within months after she was finally free of all her medical issues, she was fully engaged in her environment. It made me laugh how, even before she could speak, she was ordering her toys according to color and size. She was born into a world she’d sort and control. Her pattern recognition was unreal. We went from having a crisis to having a highly analytical baby. We went from trying to coach her to do ordinary infant things to trying to figure out how we’d be educating a child like this.
When she was first born, I was so scared and humiliated by the circumstances that I did not even want to share any of the details of her birth. The normal questions like how long was your baby, how much did she weigh, I did not want to answer. Barely able survive was the answer. Who wants to confess that? You want me to quantify how far awry our experiences are? But she did survive.
The important detail about her birth was that she was extraordinarily premature, but also extraordinarily human. She was a thinker. She cared about things. When she was less than three pounds. If someone had described this to me before I had a baby, I’m not sure I would have believed them. But life contains a lot of magic. You learn that when you become a mother.
There are people who would try to justify killing this baby before she was born. Sitting in the NICU with her for months was a strain on my career as a bond analyst. The thing I went to college for. The thing I worked a decade to climb the ranks for. I was at the top of my field. And then, after that, she was too medically fragile to put into day care… Who wants to deal with those inconveniences? Someone might try to take your position at the top of your department in the meantime. Why not get rid of the kiddo and defend your professional bailiwick? There will be other opportunities at a family! This is the very real poison our society is spitting at young mothers these days.
The discussion about abortion has become sickening, and it is all ultimately about money. Planned Parenthood has replaced labor unions as the largest contributor to the Democratic Party and Democratic candidates. What they get in exchange for that dough is politicians with increasingly psychopathic attitudes toward mothers murdering babies. It’s the mother’s “choice” to murder her thinking, soulful baby even hours before birth. If they can get millions of women to pay them hundreds of dollars a pop to relieve them of a “clump of cells,” that’s big business and Wall Street-level influence over politics. And now Planned Parenthood is in the business of providing hormone injections, so the hot new political thing is elementary schools talking about sex changes with students. They are a cancer on American family life, pushing terrible life decisions on young people, pushing a nihilist society where normal rites of passage are treated as perversions. Motherhood was their first causality, but it won’t be their last.
I beg you, if you are thinking about having an abortion, please consider the details of our birth story. A baby is a baby, from the beginning to the end. Even if you are not a religious individual, you can recognize the value of life. Babies are more sophisticated, more aware of who you are, and who they are, than you might ever suppose, and that does not start with labor. You have a life, they have a life, but you have a relationship that transcends this crazy world first. Take a moment and think about these things. You are not alone. If you need help, message me. I will help you find the resources you need. Don’t make a decision that you cannot reverse because toxic influences are trendy these days.
4 thoughts on “Having a preemie will make you re-think the abortion “debate””
Awww, I knew she was premature, but way Kristi. What you went through was heartbreaking too. What an amazing littler fighter you have and who is so darn cute.
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That is an amazing photo of you and Elise.
Most of what I know about babies is because I was one. Further, I’ve been told that if I don’t have the ladyparts, I don’t have standing to comment on the “debate.” I do agree with you about the power of a woman’s testimony. My heart changed because of the quiet example of a woman I admired and respected.
That photo shows Elise’s spark of intelligence, and the emotional bond between you. You don’t need an MD or a string of titles to see that; you just need to be paying attention.
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