Saturday, January 23, 2010

One Year Old, a Preemie Birthday

Last week, we celebrated Lexie's first birthday. She didn't really pick up on it, of course, but it was another milestone we weren't sure we'd ever achieve when I went into preterm labor at 22 weeks.

We kept it all low key. I didn't want to make a big deal out of the day, because it's not the same for preemie parents. I don't think back to the day of her birth as a day of joy and expectation. I didn't have the Hallmark "honey, it's time" moment where the very-pregnant mom-to-be picks up her already-packed overnight bag and waddles out to the car for a quick ride to the hospital and a normal birth experience. I don't have memories of smiles in the delivery room and I didn't have my baby placed on my chest right after she was born. I didn't bring my baby home a few days later to a perfectly finished nursery.

Instead, I waited in terror to hear whether my baby cried, waited prostrate and desperate for a report from the doctor on how she looked, knowing she wasn't ready to make it on her own after only 30 weeks inside me. I was so relieved when I heard Lexie cry after she was pried out of me (she was stuck behind my pelvic bone due to my unicornuate uterus). She was blue -- a giant bruise from the unusually violent c-section delivery covered three-quarters of her head and half her torso, which is why I won't be posting those pictures here. A few moments after she was born, I heard a nurse say "CLEAR!" and I panicked as I lay there paralyzed by spinal anesthesia. The first thing I thought of was the heart paddles. But everything was fine; it turned out that they were referring to her mouth and nose being clear of fluid.

She did require extensive medical intervention. Her Apgars were lousy -- she started at 4 and moved up to 6. I'd had two steroid shots to boost her lung function at 23.5 weeks, but the effect had worn off by 30 weeks. I got another shot that morning, but it wouldn't have taken full effect that quickly. I believe she had surfactant pumped directly into her lungs once she was put on oxygen. I wasn't allowed to hold her for days. She was so tiny and jaundiced and limp lying there in her isolette. She cried like crazy under the jaundice lights for more than a week. All in all, it's not an experience that lends itself to celebration.

Below, tiny Lexie a year ago today, at age one week.

For her birthday last week, my mom brought Lexie a balloon and we put a cupcake in front of her. She isn't able to eat anything solid -- anything with chunks makes her throw up -- but she messed around with the cupcake. She played with a couple of new toys, and we called it a day.

I'm so thankful to have her here and I'm thankful she is doing well. Next year maybe we'll throw a big party. But for now that's not something I can handle. Not just yet.

Monday, January 11, 2010

Why I'm Not Voting Tomorrow

A few weeks back, I noticed we'd been getting a lot of phone calls -- maybe 5 at that point -- from the Dave Marsden for Senate (VA) campaign. (There's a special election to fill the seat vacated by the guy who won the Attorney General spot.) Some calls featured actual people, some were recorded messages, and some were fake polls that ended with a veiled question that essentially meant "Don't you think it would be a great idea to vote for Dave Marsden?" It was starting to get annoying, so the next call we got, I told the woman that if I got one more call from the Marsden campaign or even ABOUT the Marsden campaign, I was not going to vote that day.

This is a big deal for me. My grandfather was a state representative in Massachusetts. I take my civic duty very seriously, and vote in every primary. I sometimes even get a little misty on my way out of the polls, thinking about how great democracy is. And what do I get in reward for this? Apparently I get my name on the list of "likely Democratic voters," and I get harassed. (I don't *always* vote Dem, but I skew in that direction.)

It was only a few more days before we got another call. Steve answered this one and told the woman about my threat. And I yelled from the background that now I'm not voting. The woman then tried to find out from Steve if I was not voting at all, or voting for the other guy. (Does it matter that much?) Steve said he didn't know and got off the phone.

Over the next couple of days, we got at least three more calls (we're up to 10 at this point in the story -- AT LEAST). Each call hardened my resolve to sit out the election. One call woke Lexie up. Steve's profane response to that person should probably not be repeated here. Then Lexie's nanny told us she had to keep the phone next to her all day because of the political calls for me -- when a call came during one of Lexie's naps, the nanny needed to answer the phone as soon as it rang so Lexie wouldn't wake up.

I felt as if I was under siege. I started to consider changing our home phone to an unlisted number. We have it only for emergencies; we mostly use our cell phones. A couple of Steve's family members use the number, but we could easily fill them in about a new one. It occurred to me that it's ridiculous to be considering changing my phone number because of political calls. Has it really come to this?

Then, yesterday, I had an opportunity to go straight to the horse's mouth. Dave Marsden himself came knocking on my door asking me to vote for him on Tuesday. I couldn't believe my luck.

I informed him that I was not voting this time, because we received SO MANY calls that I felt harassed. I told him it was during dinner, during my family time, and he had alienated me. I mentioned that I always vote, but that I'd be sitting this one out. He looked taken aback and then started a spiel about it being an important election for control of the Virginia State Senate, threatened all sorts of scary right-wing things, and blah blah blah. I just looked at him, thanked him for stopping by, and said, "maybe next time your people won't call me QUITE so much."

After he left, I felt kind of righteous, but I also started thinking that maybe an in-person visit from the candidate trumps excessive telephone harassment. Maybe I would vote for him after all, because the other guy is a far-right-winger who used his one prior elected office (school board) to make a public speech in favor of abstinence-only education that featured a personal story about the trauma he endured in losing his virginity before he got married. Seriously. Maybe I could vote for Marsden after all.

And then. Then the phone rang. It couldn't be.

It was.

Just a friendly recorded call from Mark Warner supporting Marsden for Senate.


Thursday, January 7, 2010

Guardian Angel

I want to tell you about Lexie's Guardian Angel. It's a cliche, I know. But hear me out.

October 21, 2007, would have been the due date for pregnancy #1, our first loss. That pregnancy only lasted a couple of weeks, but we didn't know to be scared/wary/worried. We knew only that you shouldn't tell people about a pregnancy until 12 weeks or so, once you were past the risk period. (Now, the thought of this almost makes me laugh.) Nobody knew about it except for me and Steve and a couple of close friends. I spontaneously miscarried, and the doctor termed it a chemical pregnancy. When my brother called us a week after my miscarriage to announce that his wife was pregnant, he didn't know about our loss. To this day, he doesn't know. I didn't know what to say. We hadn't announced the pregnancy, and somehow it didn't seem appropriate to say, "Hey, congratulations! We were expecting too, but then I started bleeding like crazy! Our baby would have been born two weeks before yours! Isn't that a funny coincidence? Ha ha!"

January 5th, 2008, would have been the due date for pregnancy #2, our second loss. With this one, we saw a heartbeat at 7 weeks, and the doctor smiled and said "it looks viable." But the egg had implanted way too low, and although that doesn't *always* mean things will go badly, it did for us. At the next appointment there was no heartbeat. I waited to miscarry on my own, but nothing happened. A classic "missed abortion." I had a D&C a couple of long weeks later.

I still think about the babies that weren't, especially around their due dates. My doctor said we'd just had bad luck. At the time, we didn't know about my uterine anomaly. I believed that our first miscarriage was probably just a bad egg, but the circumstances surrounding our second miscarriage were not normal, and we wanted answers. We fired that doctor and went to a specialist. After a barrage of testing, the specialist diagnosed a unicornuate uterus. He noted that most women with this condition have normal pregnancies, but a higher percentage than normal experience preterm labor.

I did my own research and became highly educated on the subject. It seemed to me that implantation in a good spot was key to making it through the first trimester; there is some evidence that the shape of a unicornuate uterus creates far fewer healthy places for implantation in the uterine wall. We'd have no control over where an egg implanted. I didn't know how many more pregnancies it would take, but we would keep trying. More importantly, though, we now knew to be hypervigilant for complications when we finally made it past the first trimester. That's where the new information would make a difference.

If we hadn't had the second miscarriage and started investigating, my pregnancy with Lexie could have had a terrible ending. I wouldn't have already signed on with a perinatology (high-risk pregnancy) practice for all my OB care. We wouldn't have known to call immediately when I started having symptoms of preterm labor. A regular OB probably would have told me to lie down and take it easy for the weekend. Instead, my perinatologist had me report immediately to the hospital, where I stayed for 9 weeks. I was 22 weeks pregnant at the time. Without prior knowledge of my condition, we would likely have lost Lexie in devastating fashion.

We couldn't save the baby who would have been due in January 2008, the baby who had no chance because of my unicornuate uterus.

But by helping to lead us to the answers we needed, that baby saved Lexie.