Sunday, February 5, 2012

Octo-Mom, Nightmare Before Christmas, Part 1

The following is a journal entry I wrote a few days after we delivered our son, Noah. It feels more like a documentary than a blog...I was going to re-write it, but that might be a disservice to the emotion of the time. So I'm breaking it up into a couple parts. Sorry it's so long.

Because I didn't know I had miscarried the first time, after 6 months of not getting pregnant despite the calendaring and ovulation predicting we had done (not at all fun...more like work) the doctor put us on Clomid and we got pregnant immediately. Aside from having "night" sickness the entire pregnancy, I considered myself the happiest human on the earth. Nothing could pull me down.
On December 22, 2006 around five in the morning I felt some sharp pains in my lower abdomen and I was having a hard time going back to sleep. I was determined to lay in bed though because it was the first day of Christmas break and Andy and I had decided to sleep in for the first time in months. Teachers get to be excited about Christmas break all their life! But I was 6 1/2 months pregnant, I wasn’t feeling very well and there was no position that I could get myself in that was comfortable enough to go back to sleep. Occasionally I would get another sharp pain but they were short and I thought they would eventually go away.

I was officially 27 weeks pregnant, out of 40. We were having a little boy that we were already calling “Noah Max Hunsaker.” He was a late bloomer and this worried me. Usually you should feel a baby kick by 20 weeks and by 23 weeks, nothing. Andy was in rehearsal for A Christmas Carol at the Utah Shakespeare Festival. I was sitting at the back of the theatre with Scott Phillips, my former teacher and mentor who is now the Managing Director at USF. This was the first time they had used microphones for Andy's character "Ghost of Christmas Present." The sound guy decided, that night, to add a lot of reverberation to Andy's mic and when he bellowed "are there no workhouses!?" I felt Noah kick for the first time. Then, any time Andy would speak, Noah would kick. After the rehearsal when Andy came down the aisle to go home, Noah kicked again. I knew that he recognized his dad. The next couple of weeks he was kicking a lot, usually between the hours of 8:30 in the morning and 10 and 7 and 8 at night and anytime Andy was around. It made me laugh so much.

I digress. At around 7 in the morning, the pains were pretty fierce and I just couldn’t stand it so I got up. I had Christmas presents hidden all over the house. So for the next hour I gathered and wrapped while Andy slept in. I started having more regular pains but because this was my first pregnancy, I didn’t know they were contractions and they came and went so quickly that I just kept saying “Noah, simmer down now.” But by 8:30 I couldn’t stand it anymore and I went in and woke up Andy. Andy witnessed me go through one of these pains and insisted immediately that I call the doctor. Andy, in his wisdom, started timing the pains. At 27 weeks I guess it just didn't occur to me that it would be contractions.

The doctors office asked two questions, when did they start and how long between intervals. I was having sharp pains that would double me over every five minutes and they lasted about 30 – 45 seconds.  They said “get to the hospital, you are in labor.” The first round of phone calls began “Please start praying, Jan is in labor.”

I hadn’t showered, shaved my legs, packed a bag, had a breathing lesson, nothing. We still had three months for that! This was absolutely wrong. So when we got to the hospital they admitted me, and Perionatal specialist Dr. Robert Fagnant met us there and did an exam immediately since Dr. Chamberlain still had patients to attend to. Dr. Fagnant is one of the best Perio-neo-natalologists  in the United States and to speak for St. George, everyone told us over and over that we were in one of the best Neonatal units in the state, if not the United States. Several very acclaimed preemie doctors have taken up residence here. We were very lucky.

Dr. F told us ALL the news. The good, the bad, the scary and the inevitable, that we were going to deliver a baby that day if not in the next couple of hours. I was freaking out.  He told us that 50% of all babies born at 25 weeks turned out perfectly fine if they were big enough, and the other 50% had all kind of problems including blindness, celebral palsy, deafness, and a myriad of other problems. Because I wanted to deal with our decisions intelligently I tried desperately to be unemotional at this time. I listened to the whole story, the positive and the not so positive. But that was the beginning of the nightmare. I went into some kind of deafness myself. I started praying non-stop. I started making promises to Heavenly Father that I would raise this boy in the light and that I would quit working and be the best mom that I could be. I didn’t stop praying for 36 hours.

People were swirling around, it was a beehive of activity. Very small babies were born in that room but none quite as small as Noah would be. Everyone was very concerned, but also, very calm. Dr. Fagnant did an ultrasound and tried to guess how much Noah weighed so that preparations in the next room could be readied. They figured that he weighed around 870 grams, just under two pounds and that was "great! He's a giant already!" There was a great chance that he would be completely normal and just need a few months stay in the NICU before we could bring him home. Everyone had a story of a baby that had survived at that age. I was feeling like we might win. I also wanted to scream. I also wanted to do everything I could to make the contractions stop. They tipped the bed upside down and laid a stack of pillows under me to keep my uterus upright. They gave me some little green pills that were supposed to stop the contractions but Noah wanted out. So when that didn’t work, they gave me a yellow pill that was supposed to relax the uterus so that it wouldn’t be able to contract. That worked almost immediately and everyone relaxed at that point. They wanted me to hold that baby inside as long as I possible could so that the steroids that they gave me would work through him to help mature his lungs as quickly as possible. They hoped that I could keep him inside 48 hours, but they weren’t very positive that this would happen.

After several hours of barely noticable contractions, my mucus plug came loose and my water broke. This was a bad sign and the second round of phone calls began. Please pray. Pray, pray, pray. I could feel both sides of the family praying like crazy. Within an hour of the first wave of water, however, it stopped. Miraculously, the sac had sealed itself up again and Dr F told us that we might be able to get another round of steroids in Noah after all. I was in a kind of trance of prayer.

They gave me an epidural at about 4:30pm and that was one of the worst experiences of my life, but with such a great result. I was able to forget about the contractions and relax which was probably one of the problems Noah was having. I was so uptight about what was going on and I was not ready to have a baby, and he was not ready to be born.

Besides having Andy by my side, one of the greatest blessings of the day was having Penny and JoEllen, two of my sisters with me. They had both recently given birth to little boys and we were in good spirits because I was excited to add to the club, but I was not excited to be so unprepared. They were so good to me. They told me all the mom secrets of labor, how to breathe, how to lay, and what not to worry about, what to listen and look for. I was so glad to have them there, but I missed my mom. I wished I wasn't so far away from her. We bought a few hours of time playing cards that JoEllen bought in the gift shop. JoEllen ran home and got a camera, we hadn’t even thought about a camera. I didn’t even have a clean pair of socks on. I hadn't shaved my legs or even showered for the day. But at the time, you just quit caring about that, and concentrating on trying to keep that baby inside for a few more hours, a few more minutes.

I just kept praying. I was also holding very still. I felt like if I moved, I would tear something loose, or jar Noah or start another contraction. By about 10 that night I was finally able to sleep. I had defied the time line Dr F. had fully expected to have delivered him by then. I knew that people were praying, our families were praying, the nurses and the doctors were all praying. There was a powerful spirit in that room like I had never felt.

A postpartum team was waiting on the other side of the window of the room I was in to take the baby once he was delivered. They sat around and waited, and waited. Penny and JoEllen went home to put their families to bed with the condition that no matter what time of night, we were to call them and they would be there for the birth. The doctors all went home for a few hours and the good nurses, and Andy took care of me.

Andy tried to sleep in a reclining chair next to my bed but it was more like a war between Andy and the chair. It was hilarious (but not to Andy) and I was worried about him the whole night. He had to keep getting up to turn off the monitors that were beeping. He didn't even get one day of vacation. He was so exhausted and I felt so bad for him. I could see the worry on his face like I had never seen before. What if I hadn’t had such a good man by my side?  What an incredible blessing to me. Andy did not deserve to have this happen to him. I started to feel so much guilt about being older than him – again – and putting him through this ordeal. I just prayed and prayed that Noah would stay put for another day and that eventually, he would be able to get to know the sweet, faithful, strong, hilarious man I know as his father. I hoped that Noah would pick up those traits from Andy. Just one more day would help so much they kept more day...even an hour.

But it was not to be. At about 4 in the morning on the 23d of December, I felt like I needed to have a bowel movement. Dr F had said that that was a sign of the babies head coming further down into the birth canal and to let everyone know when that sensation was happening. So I did. I told the nurse, Caroline, that I felt like I needed to have a bowel movement. That was when the circus began.

Caroline checked to see if my water had broken and if she could feel Noah’s head and she thought she could. She practically ran out of the room flipping the lights on as she went. Suddenly, everyone that was playing cards or sleeping was wide awake and in “baby” mode. The room came alive. Dr. Eggert, another amazing doctor in charge of the NICU, got his team together in the resuscitation room ready for the pass-off. I was then able to feel the contractions pretty clearly and they had me push right away. Doctor Chamberlain arrived.

I thought it would be one easy push. A baby that small should just shoot out, right? Let me say a couple of things about pushing. What the…? First of all, I couldn’t tell what was being pushed and what wasn’t. People were giving me all kinds of advice and I was doing everything I could. I passed gas, poop, water, blood and finally I asked them to let the epidural wear off so that I could feel what I was doing. I had pushed for almost two hours – from 4:00am to 6:00. It took about 15 minutes for the feeling to start to return to my legs and within two good pushes, Noah had crowned.

The next part is tricky. The next part worries me still to this day. As soon as he was nearly out, they told me to stop pushing. I was panicking. I really needed to push at that time like no other. But I am obedient if nothing else and I held back while they coaxed him down the birth canal gently. to protecthis head and not damage his brain in the process. That was the longest two minutes of my life. I couldn’t see anything that was going on because they wouldn’t let me sit up very straight to avoid putting more pressure on his head and tiny little body as he emerged. I worry to this day that I didn't stop pushing soon enough.

Once he was out and they had cut the cord, Dr Chamberlain held him up as he crossed the room for me to see but went straight by me and passed him through the window to the waiting team on the other side in the NICU. All I heard them say about him was that he had an obvious cleft lip. I knew that wasn’t terrible and these days, cleft lips can be repaired so that they aren’t even noticeable. My other thought however was all of the speech therapy, what if it was a cleft palate or worse. So ironic that he was born to two actors. That’s the way it works though, huh? No one would be better equipped to teach him how to speak properly than both of his parents. My mind was reeling. I was praying so hard I thought my heart would explode.

I was shocked at how maternal I felt immediately. I wanted to hold that baby. I knew he needed intensive care, I could see that he was tiny, so tiny and it was shocking. But I ached immediately to have that baby put on my chest like regular moms. Even though they told me that they were going to pass him straight off to another team and that I would not be able to hold him, that was my first self-pity moment. I had spent 6 months with this kid and now they were taking him away. Why coulnd't anything just be easy?

As they were finishing with me, I still had to deliver the placenta and be cleaned up, Dr. F came back into the room to say that Noah had officially used his lungs and had cried out. I missed it. He had also pooped and pee’d all over everyone and that was a great sign. Glad I missed that. Andy said “that’s my boy,” and everyone laughed. The spirit of the room was getting lighter now that he was born and in safe hands. Looking back over the moment, I wished someone had recorded that little cry, because once they had stuck all those tubes down his throat, he never used his little voice again.