When you decide not to find out the sex of your unborn baby, you’re unwittingly subjecting yourself to the thoughts and opinions of just about everybody on what they think you’re having. Be it old wives’ tales (barfing for five months? GIRL!) or the shape and position of your belly (carrying round and high? GIRL!), everyone likes to pretend they’re an expert when it comes to predicting the sex of the baby.
Despite a general consensus among family and friends that the wee sapling in my belly was probably-maybe-perhaps a girl based on the aforementioned fantastical reasoning, I could never really commit to thinking we would end up with a daughter. I don’t know if that’s because I already had a son and he’s all we know, or if there was some sort of cosmic, biologic connection between me and the baby, but anytime I thought I might buy a pink onesie, just in case, I couldn’t bring myself to do it.
So when the baby was born and Roth announced, “It’s a boy!”, I laughed, and then I cried tears of joy and relief as the nurse placed another warm and wriggling baby boy atop my chest. Of course he’s a boy. I think I knew all along that he was a boy, that I was destined to end up with two of my own, just like Roth and his brother, and their dad and uncle.
Yes, yes. Milo was meant to be.
I didn’t intend to let two months pass in between posts, but man, have the last 10-plus weeks gone by in a blink. Whenever I thought I might take advantage of a small pocket of hands-free time to write Milo’s birth story, I found laying prone on our bed way more appealing. Sorry ‘bout the radio silence here, but pressing pause to close my eyes for a bit took precedent over anything else. If there’s one thing I learned from taking care of a small baby the first time, it’s sleep (or lie still/take a shower/play Candy Crush/eat a sandwich/scroll through your iPhone pics of them) when they sleep.
I know long-winded birth stories are not everyone’s favorite thing to read, and for a while, I wasn’t sure if I’d even write anything about Milo’s birth since so much time had passed. But I think it’s important to have a record of what happened, just as I did for Rowan, so that one day I can refer to it when the details become fuzzy. I mean, things are already starting to feel a bit blurry.
Forgive me all these thousands of words to follow.
It’s no secret that I didn’t love being pregnant this time. I grew increasingly more miserable with each passing week. I was tired and cranky and achy, and by the 36th week, I was very ready to be done. When I made it to the 38th week, sailing past when Rowan was born at 37 weeks 5 days and the doctor (not my own) declared on Thursday that no progress had been made toward labor that week, I started to feel a little depressed. I just wanted to have the baby that weekend, to put an end to the acid reflux and carpal tunnel, to have the delivery time out with the arrival of Roth’s mom. And yet, nothing was happening.
Except, of course something was happening. I was just so caught up in waiting for contractions to begin, as they did with Rowan, that when my water broke in an apparently unceremonious fashion, I had no idea for about a day before I started to wonder if something was going on. Like an idiot, though, I didn’t tell Roth that I thought I was maybe leaking amniotic fluid and instead buried my nose in my phone to Google “what does amniotic fluid look like?” and similar other searches that did nothing to quell my paranoia nor point me in the direction toward L&D. Roth’s mom arrived Friday night, and I was able to shift my focus to helping her feel settled in to our house.
Outside of a spate of three or four middle-of-the-night, very mild contractions, nothing really seemed to be happening, but by Saturday afternoon, I was feeling more anxious than normal. Rowan and I watched through the living room window a freak thunder- and hail-storm that brought with it a frosty chill in the air. After dinner, Roth and I decided to bundle up for a quick neighborhood walk in the hopes of spurring some contractions, and it was then that I finally expressed my concern to him about my water breaking. Had it? Should I call my doc? What if it’s nothing? GAH. I don’t know what to doooooo.
(A bit of foreshadowing: Ladies, don’t be as dumb as I was. Just get checked out at the first sign of something amiss. You’ll thank me later.)
Roth was of the mind to call my doctor, just to see what they’d say, but I knew they would tell me to come to the hospital, even if it turned out to be a false alarm. Suddenly I started to feel scared, not as ready as I thought I was to have the baby. Our bags had been packed for weeks, Roth’s mom was in town to stay with Rowan, and yet, maybe I just needed a little more time, or at the very least, a good night’s sleep. But there was no way I would be able to sleep at that point. After Rowan and Roth’s mom went to bed, I finally felt brave enough to call my doctor. About 30 minutes later, around 9:30, we were headed to triage.
It was eerily quiet at the hospital that night. After getting checked into triage and confirming that indeed my water had ruptured at some point, we walked around the halls of the fifth floor for about an hour while waiting for a delivery room to be set up for me. I wasn’t in active labor — I was dilated maybe 2 cm — but because my water was broken, and for who knows how long, we decided to go forth with augmentation, aka Pitocin, to get things going. I wasn’t particularly pleased with the turn of events, reflecting on my first experience with Rowan wherein I gradually started having contractions over the course of several hours and never needed the medical help, but in the interest of avoiding infection — and meeting our baby, of course! — I quickly came to terms with the trajectory on which we suddenly found ourselves.
Final belly shot.
By midnight, I was in my delivery room, hooked up to the smallest dosage of Pitocin, and mentally preparing myself for a long night. My nurse was pleasant, though not nearly as warm and comforting as the nurse who helped deliver Rowan. Mostly, though, I just wanted to close my eyes and try to get a little rest. Roth tried to do the same on the converted lounge/torture chair, but for the most part, deep sleep evaded both of us.
Just a couple hours later, minor contractions turned to pretty major, and I cried uncle. I never planned to deliver the baby without an epidural, but I was surprised by how quickly the Pitocin amped up the pain. With Rowan, I managed to go from 2 to 7 cm without any pain medication, but the ramp up was slower and more natural-feeling. I was definitely on a faster track this time. By 3 a.m., the anesthesiologist had administered the epidural, and like last time, my body immediately started shaking as if I were very cold. I wasn’t cold or hot, nor was I running a fever, but the shaking made it very difficult to rest, despite not being able to really feel the contractions.
By 5 a.m., my contractions were pretty steady, and the nurse checked my dilation, declaring me ready to start pushing. She paged the on-call doctor (not my own, of course, just like last time) and started preparing the room. Before the doctor arrived, the nurse assisted me with some practice pushes and breathing techniques. By then, the sun was starting to come up over the horizon, and we remarked on how different this delivery — and pregnancy, too — was compared to the last. Rowan was born in the winter, on the eve of a city-debilitating snowstorm; this baby was going to make his or her entrance into the world on a sunny spring morning.
The doctor finally arrived for the last few rounds of pushing. Like last time, the doctor could feel that the baby was face up. She tried to turn the baby, but didn’t have much luck. Instead, the baby’s positioning prolonged labor just a bit longer than if it’d been face down. As I got closer to the end, I started to feel really excited about meeting our baby and finally finding out if we had a girl or a boy. Both the doctor and the nurse commented that they could see the head, and that we had ourselves a “little baldy!” A couple more hard pushes, and out came the baby at 6:16 a.m. Roth was able to get a good look and lo, it was a boy!
“Really?” I confirmed. Yes, really. Another boy. I laughed, and then I cried as the nurse placed him on my chest. “My mom is going to be so surprised!”
Milo Burke was 7 pounds 3.3 ounces and 20 inches. He didn’t let out a really good cry until the nurse gave him his vitamin K shot. But his apgar scores were high and seemingly, he was perfect. He latched on right away to nurse, and then snuggled up in the crook of my neck as we waited to be transferred to a recovery room. By then, the sun was up, and everyone had been called to let them know our son (yes, a boy!) had arrived. Grandma Lo was just waking up with Rowan, and Roth got to talk to him about his baby brother. He seemed excited to meet him and anxious to see me, having gone to bed the night before not knowing anything was going on.
We finally settled in to our recovery room and marveled at the fact that we had another boy. He looked so much like Rowan did, too, that it was almost surreal. At one point, a few hours after he was born, I looked down at him in my arms and felt overcome with emotion. “I love him,” I said to Roth, who had endured so many months of my misery. All of the barfing and constipation and swollen hands and exhaustion turned to distant memories in that instant as I stared at my beautiful new son. It was all just meant to be.
Later that morning, Roth went to pick up his mom and Rowan to bring them back to the hospital for a visit. When Rowan got to meet Milo for the first time, it was almost too much sweetness for me to bear. And then Rowan asked us why we had a boy when he wanted a girl. Oh, dear. Roth’s mom got to hold Milo, too. I was just so relieved she was able to come to Seattle, to be with Rowan when I went into labor, and for this exact moment, to hold her brand new grandson hours after he was born.
Rowan quickly grew bored of the hospital, so Roth left again to take them home. The staff pediatrician came in then to examine Milo. She said he looked good, and told me not to worry too much if he hadn’t been able to nurse again since his initial latching, that newborn babies sometimes sleep for 12 hours after they’re born. She asked if he’d pooped or peed, and again didn’t seem too concerned that he hadn’t yet. Hmm.
By the late afternoon, after Roth returned, we started to feel pretty worried about our little guy. I hadn’t been able to get him to nurse since right after he was born, and he had not pooped or peed. Additionally, he would occasionally wake up just enough to spit up. We expressed our concern with the day nurse, but like the pediatrician, she did not seem alarmed. It wasn’t until several hours later after he started spitting up bile that our night nurse decided that something might be wrong. She asked to take him to the nursery to have him examined more closely. Wearily, we agreed.
She came back shortly with a neonatologist who explained that something was indeed wrong, but what exactly, she wasn’t sure. It could be a blockage in his bowels, or it could be as serious as an infection, but further testing had to be done in the NICU. It was midnight by then, and I was so tired I could hardly see straight let alone comprehend what was happening. They wheeled Milo back into the room so I could hold him for a minute before taking him to another floor. And then my perfect baby boy was whisked away.
No sleep was to be had as we waited for him to return. Finally, the same neonatologist came back around 2:30 a.m. with news. She prefaced the news by saying that while it might not be the news we’re hoping for, it’s actually quite good news that Milo didn’t have an infection, because if he did, it could kill him. KILL HIM, she said to a mother who just delivered a baby 20 hours earlier. The “good” news was that it looked like he had a bowel blockage and that it required surgery. She said the surgeon had been paged to come in early that morning, and that we would be contacted soon with more information. Oh, and we should try to get some rest.
I don’t remember this neonatologist’s name nor would we ever see or talk to her again, but she had the worst bedside manner of all the medical professionals we would deal with thereafter. I still can’t believe she would use the phrase “it could kill him.”
The next few hours were some of the worst of my entire life, not knowing what was going on with Milo. It was such a stark difference from what was happening the same time the night before, and yet both times we were waiting, waiting, waiting. I called my mom around 3 or 4 in the morning and bawled my eyes out, absolutely sick with worry. Roth tried to stay strong for me, but I could see the concern behind his eyes. This turn of events was so unreal.
Finally, I couldn’t stand not knowing what was going on, so Roth called the NICU around 8 a.m. to inquire. He spoke with a nurse (a male nurse, in fact) who had been with Milo all night. He said there was some good news to report, that he had peed once and pooped twice, all on his own, and that it appeared the blockage may have been his meconium plug, which he had finally passed. But, the on-call doctor had ordered an bariatric enema to be followed by another x-ray to see if things were moving on their own. We asked if we could come see Milo then, but the nurse recommended we wait a bit longer so they could keep him quiet and calm before the enema. He expected we would hear from the doctor soon, but that they were “cautiously optimistic” about his progress, and that surgery may not be as imminent as the neonatologist thought.
Despite not being able to see Milo then, I felt like a ton of bricks had been lifted off my chest. Roth and I hugged each other long and hard after that phone call. I think we both knew that he was going to be OK, that our little Milo was a trooper — a soldier, just like his namesake.
Meanwhile, terrible events were unfolding in Boston surrounding the marathon. I couldn’t bring myself to turn on the news, but I pieced together what was happening via Facebook and Twitter and decided I couldn’t let myself get sucked into that nightmare while I was dealing with my own scary situation.
At 2 p.m., we got a call from another NICU nurse who said then was a good time to visit Milo. She said he did really well during the enema, and that he was just the sweetest little baby, how all of the nurses were falling in love with him. My body ached to see him. It’d been 12 excruciating hours since they took him away. When we arrived on the sixth floor, I began to feel a little nervous about seeing him hooked up to cords and monitors. Would I be able to hold him?
It was definitely an intense experience, visiting Milo in the NICU, but not because of how he looked. He was definitely the biggest, most robust baby in Room 2. While it pained me to see him with a tube in his nose, it was harder to watch all of the other parents visiting their smaller, sicker babies, to know that things could be so much worse. We weren’t out of the woods just yet, but I felt so much more hopeful that things would be fine.
During that initial visit, the nurse showed us his x-rays and explained what had transpired in the last 12 hours. The tube in his nose was draining his stomach of bile to prevent him from spitting up, and to keep his stomach clear so that all of the contrast dye from the enema could work its way through his bowels. He also had an IV of sugar water for food and a heartbeat/pulse monitor.
Despite all of those tubes and cords, I was able to hold him again for the first time, and oh, it made my heart swell with even more affection for this little guy. Truth be told, I don’t think I felt very bonded to the baby before he was born, probably due to a combination of hating being pregnant and not finding out the sex, but I’d have endured an awful pregnancy all over again if it meant he didn’t have to be in the NICU.
Unfortunately, he had to stay in the NICU for three more days. The doctors who checked him every day were being extremely cautious, it seemed, even though it appeared the blockage had resolved itself. Once they determined the blockage was no longer an issue, Milo had to be weaned off the sugar water and introduced to breast milk, by bottle at first and later by breastfeeding. It took a few tries, but eventually Milo got the hang of nursing and started eating like a champ. By Thursday, he was downgraded to the level 3 NICU where we were able to “in-room” with him one night before he was officially released on Friday.
As all of this was unfolding, Roth’s mom was taking care of Rowan at home. It was definitely a confusing and frustrating time for him, as I came home without the baby on Tuesday, then went back to the hospital to stay on my own that night in one of the parents’ rooms so I could try nursing Milo every few hours. I wasn’t able to get a room for Wednesday night, so I stayed at home that night, but then went back to the hospital early Thursday with Roth to be with Milo when he was moved to another floor. Rowan didn’t have preschool that week, either, to distract him from what was going on at the hospital, and it was just rough.
On Wednesday night, I started having the chills followed by a high fever every few hours. I thought maybe I was coming down with mastitis, which would make sense, since I had been pumping every two or three hours to make a store of milk for Milo. Other than a fever, though, my symptoms didn’t match, so the triage nurse at my doctor’s office told me to treat the fevers with Tylenol and call back if I had any abdominal pain. I didn’t then, but by Saturday night, I could barely get out of bed to help Roth change and feed the baby in the middle of the night, I was so doubled over in pain. On Sunday morning, I finally called the on-call doctor, and soon after, I checked back into the hospital to be treated for endometritis.
I spent two nights in the hospital getting intravenous antibiotics to treat the uterine infection, which is likely a result of prolonged ruptured membranes — or, because I was a moron who didn’t get checked out when I first thought I might be leaking amniotic fluid. My case is a bit curious, though, because I didn’t show any symptoms for three days postpartum. I can’t help but think the stress of going back and forth to the hospital that week might have exacerbated my condition, too. I was a wreck that week, not really taking it as easy as I might’ve had I gone home with the baby after two days instead of five. Roth was an absolute rock star taking care of both boys on his own for those two nights. The only upside was that I managed to get some much-needed rest.
I’ve had a lot of days and weeks to mull over Milo’s birth. For one, it was very different than my experience with Rowan. I just assumed things would go similarly, but I should’ve known to expect the unexpected after a more difficult, much different pregnancy. Two, I can’t help but wonder if augmentation had anything to do with what happened to Milo. Did the Pitocin speed things up too unnaturally, and his body just didn’t have enough time to pass the meconium plug had I been able to labor without the aid of medication? And three, when did my water break? Is it possible it happened during my last pelvic exam on Thursday? It was done by another doctor in the practice whom I’d never seen before, and I recall it being far more painful than other exams.
Regardless of whether or not I could’ve changed or controlled the circumstances of Milo’s birth, I’m extremely grateful for the stellar care he received by the nurses in the NICU. They were all so caring and accommodating. I felt like he was in very capable and loving hands, and I didn’t worry too much whenever I was away from the NICU. I am also so glad I decided to keep my insurance through COBRA. Even though I could’ve jumped on to Roth’s plan after I lost my job, instead I kept my current plan because I’d met my deductible and also because it provided Milo and me far better coverage. We are faced with some out-of-pocket costs for my two hospital stays and Milo’s time in the NICU, but it’s not nearly as financially devastating as it could’ve been.
Now that Milo is here, though, it’s easy to forget those few stressful days. Now that Milo is here, it’s hard to imagine life without him.
Photo by Jessica Eskelsen.