It seemed innocuous enough. Just a backache. No big deal. And I could explain exactly how I got it. I had been in Phoenix for a conference, and had schlepped my big old suitcase, overpacked as usual, through airports and baggage claims. Sure, I was pregnant, finishing my second trimester and heading into the home stretch of impending motherhood. But I felt good, and I’m a stubborn-ass-control-freak. If I can do something, I’m going to do it. And so I must have just pulled a little something in my back hauling that bag around.
I was six months pregnant in the fall of 2001 and it was lovely. There were a couple of not-so-normal but nothing-earth-shattering things cluttering the landscape, not the least of which was the discovery of a large fibroid tumor (benign) when I had my first sonogram. Shouldn’t have any negative affect on the baby whatsoever saith the doctors; I was at a high-risk obstetrics practice, due to the fact that I was an “older” first time mother, and I knew they had seen all this before. The baby was a boy (which made my husband unbelievably happy), as evidenced by a clear-as-a-bell sonogram picture. Discussions about names had begun in a very casual manner. I was starting to waddle. Our lamaze classes had been scheduled. I was still craving Wendy’s hamburgers on a daily basis. Standard pregnancy stuff. Frankly, I was more preoccupied with the turmoil sweeping the country after 9/11 -- that wound was still so fresh and dominating. I figured the best was yet to come in my role as a to-be mommy.
And then that backache just wouldn’t go away.
I had meetings after work that week -- I was the president-elect of a women’s volunteer organization (the reason for my conference attendance) and there were plans to make and projects to oversee. As I sat in the living room of a friend for one such meeting mid-week, she commented to me that I didn’t look like I felt well. I thanked her for her concern, chalking it up to being tired from travel and that darn backache. The next evening brought more of the same -- concerned comments from other friends and an increased exhaustion coupled with an aching back.
Finally, Friday came, and we -- my husband and I -- were in the market for a new television set. Opting to take his ancient, shock-absorber-deprived Jeep Cherokee, we ventured out, only to have me ask him to take me home because I just wasn’t feeling well. Rather than a backache, I was beginning to suspect that I had a kidney or bladder infection. That made sense. Pregnant women get those all the time. A call to my OB/GYN’s service connected me with the doctor on call, who suggested I take Tylenol PM and try to get some sleep. Impossible instructions. The pain finally became too much, and we drove down foggy early morning streets to the Emergency Room.
That’s when everything changed. Turned upside down. Inside out.
A quick examination by a very kind on-call nurse determined that it wasn’t a backache or kidney infection or bladder problem. I was in labor, had been for several days, was fully dilated and barring a miracle, would deliver that baby -- my little boy -- very shortly. Way too early. Medical personnel started moving at the speed of light. I watched the color drain out of my husband’s face. The gravity of the situation landed directly onto my chest.
And that’s when I started screaming.
Straight from the core of my soul.
Morphine was quickly administered. My husband made frantic phone calls to track down family (my parents and brother) and friends, who came immediately to the hospital, leaving their own families as the sun was coming up. While I was under the benefit of anesthesia, he was not; the presence of loved ones provided his pain relief. As much as they could anyway. It was a losing proposition, trying to asuage the horror of the situation.
What was really terrifying at that moment was the determination of my due date. It had originally been figured that I was about 23 weeks along. The survival rates of babies born that early is practically nonexistent. And the obligatory legal visit from the hospital social worker made that fact very clear. Fortunately for us all, I was in fact two weeks farther along than originally thought, giving the baby better odds. However, I still remember, even through my morphine-tainted memories, that very clinical discussion with the social worker and her, matter-of-factly telling me, a woman scared completely out of her drugged mind, that the chances of my baby boy surviving were minimal at best. It haunts me to this day.
I’m not sure precisely what happened over the next couple of hours; morphine will do that to a girl. I know I was given several medications to try and stop the contractions; to try and develop the baby’s lungs (the primary concern) on warp-speed; to try and manage the seemingly unmanageable. I was hung upside down, and endured a parade of observers assessing my situation. I was strong; the contractions were stronger. The only saving grace was my obsession with the fact that because I had not felt well all week, I had neglected to shave my legs. Which, along with every other part of my anatomy, was on public display. Never mind all that -- I felt compelled to apologize to every. single. person. who came to check on me for my hairy legs. It became the only remotely funny thing in this theatre of the absurd.
Four hours later, my will was no longer enough to stave off the inevitable. My doctor, who lived an hour and a half south of the hospital, was unable to get to the delivery room in time. The doctor in attendance was a resident; I could not have asked for, or received, better care and attention from any practicing physician. As they wheeled me to the delivery room, I was perhaps the calmest civilian there. I saw faces of family and friends overhead, encouraging me, talking to God, providing comfort. My dear, dear friend Judy was there, to give support to her dear friend, my mom. Judy has since passed away after a valiant fight with cancer, but the fact that she is part of this memory is a poignant blessing. Holding hands, my husband and I entered the delivery room, feet first and breech, anticipating everything and understanding nothing.
Once in the delivery room, events happened quickly. One calculated push was all it took to send my baby boy literally flying into the world, as if I’d shot him straight out of a cannon. Capable trained medical hands were there from the right-next-door children’s hospital to tend to him. It was only a matter of seconds before he cried.
Straight from the core of his soul.
He was healthy and functioning as normally as a 25-week-gestational-aged baby could. And I breathed solidly for the first time in hours.
We named him for his two grandfathers -- he would be called William, Will for short. Such a prophetic name. And just as quickly as he was launched, Will was whisked away immediately under the protection of machine and man and heavenly father through an underground tunnel to the NeoNatal Intensive Care Unit at the children’s hospital.
And I somehow knew, at that moment, that everything would be all right.
But what I didn’t realize at the time is that all right.
Is always all relative.