six years ago, I lay in a narrow bed in a room with three other pregnant women. I was 37 weeks pregnant, and being induced. My son had been diagnosed as intra-uterine growth restricted in my 22nd week. I’d been on bedrest for four weeks for signs of pre-term labour and to conserve my energy. As we understood, the placenta, that vital organ connecting him to me, was no longer working as it should. It was old before its time. Blood was no longer flowing freely between it and him, and it was time for him to arrive. To complicate matters, the hospital’s neonatal intensive care ward has been closed to new patients because of a Norwalk virus outbreak. If he is born too small, or if he requires intensive care, we have no idea where he will be sent. Out of town, certainly; out of country, quite possibly.
We try not to think about that, he and I. His father and I send him entreaties of love and plumpness. Mere ounces matter, now.
He was so quiet, curled inside me. So much quieter than his brother, the nocturnal acrobat. I gave my belly an occasional nudge. Occasionally, I got a nudge back: gentle, noncommittal. From the bed across from me, a colossal snore. From beside me, the hushed voices of a woman on the phone. I remember her, remember that her water had broken around her 26th week. Somehow, impossibly, she kept leaking fluid, but stayed pregnant, 27, 28, 29 weeks and onward.
The night trickles by. In a room with three other women, someone is always there — nurses checking blood pressure, fetal tones. One woman wears flip-flops; her cadence is distinctive: flipFLIPflop…flipFLIPflop. She is pregnant with twins and too weary to lift her feet so late at night. Be quiet, all of you. I want to scold. I have important work to do tomorrow. But arguing seems to require all the energy I’m trying to horde. I stay silent.
Morning arrives with the news we’ve dreaded. The NICU is still not open. My contractions are ramping up. He’ll be arriving today. My husband and I walk endless loops of the halls, down one side, out the other, until I proclaim that there is nothing I need more than to just lie down. Now. I ask for drugs; the uncertainty of the situation takes away my confidence. But the one bolus gives me all I need, and I settle into the rhythm of the contractions, feeling him slide down, descend. I hear the doctor ask me to reach down and touch my baby, find his head, but I’m concentrating on moving him out of me and my hands miss the mark, to much laughter. It is only then I realize that I’ve been joined by a cast of thousands: doctors, neonatologists, nurses. I welcome them to the party.
And then..another push, and he is born. He is yelling already. The doctor lays him on my chest momentarily, and I commit him to memory. He has his great-grandfather’s feet and my hands. And then, to be assessed and weighed. Possibly to be whisked away, but he is weighed again: someone had read the scale incorrectly. Someone has converted grams to ounces incorrectly, and my boy gains in stature at the stroke of a pen. Ounces matter.
Happy birthday, Sebastian, our little big guy.