The Mom Who Toured the NICU While Pregnant

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Because no two paths to parenthood look the same, the Cut’s How I Got This Baby invites parents to share their stories. Want to share yours? Email gotbaby@thecut.com and tell us a bit about how you became a parent..

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Jenny thought the most dramatic thing that happened during her pregnancy would be a change of job. But shortly after the shift to her new workplace went better than she could have anticipated, a doctor discovered that she was in danger of delivering early. At 24 weeks pregnant, she went into the hospital, where she stayed, on and off, until she reached 28 weeks. She discusses the phone call where she learned her new boss was also pregnant, having lounge pants from Net-a-Porter delivered to the hospital, touring the NICU, and facing new parenthood after “the trauma that wasn’t.”

On getting pregnant. I knew that I wanted kids, pretty much always. As I was getting older, I thought, Oh, I’ll have them in … a while. My husband and I had been married two years before we were ready to start trying. Then it took six months to get pregnant, which felt like an eternity at the time — but I know now is not very long at all. I was 32.

While I was trying to get pregnant, I was tracking my ovulation, eating super healthy, doing acupuncture. But I got pregnant in December, over the holidays, when I was eating cookies all the time and drinking eggnog. Of course.

The beginning of my pregnancy was extremely normal. I was nauseous but felt fine, just a little tired. At all the appointments my doctors would be like, “Things look very good. You’re doing amazing.” That kind of language really bothered my husband, actually — one doctor said something like, “A+! You’re doing great!” It really upset him. He was like, “Well, what if something was wrong — would we not be doing great? Would we not be A+?”

On changing jobs while pregnant. At the time, I was working a job with insane hours. I needed to be in the office from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. every day. I’d be doing these big presentations and thinking, Don’t throw up, don’t throw up. I’d been growing more and more unhappy at work, but being pregnant made me know I needed a change.

I ended up interviewing with some people I used to work with. While I was interviewing, I didn’t tell them I was pregnant — I was just about 12 weeks along and only starting to tell other people. My plan was to tell them before I accepted the job offer. But my now-boss was walking me through the offer over the phone and hadn’t said anything about maternity benefits, and when I asked her what they were, she was like, “Oh! And I’m pregnant. We just announced it to everyone today.”

It would have been too weird to not tell her, at that point. So I said, “Oh, you know — actually, I’m pregnant too.” It turned out she was due the day after I was. They’d been planning to hire me to cover her maternity leave, and of course, that went out the window. But they were great about it. They were like, “Look, we’re hiring you long-term.”

On a shift in her pregnancy. It was the day after I got to 24 weeks. I woke up with spotting — it was bright red, the kind they tell you to definitely call about.

Even after I was told to come in right away, I didn’t understand that it was a big deal. My husband didn’t understand either: He came with me but brought his tennis racket, so he could drop it off to be restrung once we were done. We were very like, “Everything’s probably fine.”

The doctor did a vaginal ultrasound. In retrospect, they did a remarkable job of staying very calm — they said that it seemed like my cervix might be shortening, but that the hospital’s equipment would be able to tell better. I had no idea how serious it was at that point. I asked the doctor how long we’d be there and got the first hint: She told me to cancel everything for the day. It’s so strange to look back at the email I wrote to my work, apologizing and trying to work out who’d cover me for a meeting.

At the hospital, we went right to the labor-and-delivery floor, and I waited in the solarium — they call it a solarium, but it’s just a waiting room by the elevator. In triage, they put the monitors on me and said they’d do an ultrasound in a few hours. Everyone else was about to have a baby — I could hear them moaning in pain.

When the doctors checked me, my cervix only had 8 millimeters left. I should have had 4 centimeters. Usually, 8 millimeters means you’ll deliver very, very soon.

On coming to terms with a new kind of pregnancy. I still didn’t realize how serious this was. It wasn’t until one of my regular doctors told me I was a high-risk pregnancy and needed to go on bed rest — because they thought I could deliver anytime — that I really got it.

At first, I was so focused on everything I wouldn’t be able to do — exercise, leave the house, go to work — that I didn’t really understand the larger implications. It wasn’t until the head of the high-risk team came by and said, “You know, if the baby were delivered now, he’d have a 50-50 chance of survival,” that I had my first break-down-and-cry moment.

I had shots to protect the baby’s lungs if I delivered early, and stayed stable for the next day, which meant I could go home. Then, in the parking lot, I started having cramps. We decided that I’d go home and take a shower and see how that felt. It didn’t change anything — we were home for literally an hour. This time, the contractions were more visible on the monitor. And my cervix had lost another millimeter or two. They decided I needed to stay at least through the weekend. When they checked me at the end of the weekend, I’d shortened completely. They said I needed to stay until 26 weeks — I was continuing to progress and they didn’t think labor would be long enough for me to get to the hospital.

I felt very well taken care of by all the doctors, but they kept stressing that preterm labor was what they knew the least about in all of obstetrics. They could do interventions that would help to a certain point, but they didn’t know why it was happening. One of the doctors told me, “It’s already written in the sand, when you’re going to have this baby.”

On being prepared for the NICU. By that time, being sad about what I couldn’t do had completely fallen away. They had doctors from the NICU come talk to us. The doctors said that if the baby was born at 23 weeks it was the first week he could possibly survive — when we realized we were just at 24 weeks, we got so scared. They kept wanting to tell us all the things that could go wrong, if he were born that early. We were like, Stop telling us this stuff. I didn’t want all of that in my head.

But because everyone thought an early delivery was imminent, we toured the NICU. We saw all the tiny, tiny babies hooked up to machines. They explained that we’d come here every day to see the baby and have skin-to-skin contact. Another resident came down to talk to us after the tour. We kept asking whether our baby would have a life, if he were born this early. We wanted him to survive, but we also wanted him to have a life. The resident was very good at giving us information but not a direct answer to that question.

On working from the hospital. Once I knew I was going to be there a while, I decided I was going to work. The doctors actually encouraged it — they were like, “If you can do it, definitely do whatever takes your mind off things.” My work was amazing: They totally restructured things to make it work. It kept me sane — every morning I did a Google Hangout with my team. I just wasn’t on video because I was in a hospital room.

At 26 weeks, nothing had changed. They decided I could go home. It was encouraging — I’d made it that far. That lasted about two days. Because I thought my mucus plug had fallen out, I went to the doctor and found out I was a centimeter dilated. They decided I would have to go back to the hospital for two more weeks.

To cheer myself up, I went online to look for some nice lounge pants. I called Net-a-Porter and asked whether they’d deliver to the hospital. They were like, “Okay …” But when the pants came — and it was so dumb, they were from an expensive maternitywear line — they were see-through! Who makes see-through pants for a pregnant woman?

On staying pregnant. I did get to 28 weeks, and I could go home. The doctors told me that a baseline level of crampiness was fine — but that if the pain increased, I needed to come back. I’d be up at three in the morning, trying to assess: Was this the same level of pain, or a worse level of pain? I had such a feeling of responsibility — if I didn’t assess the pain properly, the baby wouldn’t be okay. For this reason it was actually scarier and sometimes harder not to be in the hospital anymore.

We kept going back to the doctor, every week. I just stayed pregnant. I got to 32 weeks, which was a huge milestone. They kept telling me they didn’t know why I was still pregnant, but to keep doing what I was doing — which was nothing. Finally, they explained to me that they knew bed rest wouldn’t stop me from having the baby, but that they didn’t know what level of activity would kick-start me into having the baby. I was allowed to walk five blocks, slowly, not every day. What that turned into was me not wanting to walk anywhere, ever.

On the way her baby was born. Miraculously, I got to term, 37 weeks. All of a sudden, they wanted me out and about — they wanted me to deliver as soon as possible. I went back to work, walked, tried to do yoga. At 38 weeks, I went back to work, right at the time most pregnant women stop going in. I was just so happy to be out of my house and at the office.

After all that, I ended up having to be induced — I made it past my delivery date. I was put on Pitocin, and we agreed that I would say if and when I wanted an epidural. I was on Pitocin for only ten minutes, when the monitors went off and what seemed like 17 people rushed into the room. They told me to turn on my side, then get on all fours. All of a sudden they gave me an oxygen mask and said, “This is for you and the baby.”

They unlocked the bed and just started moving me. I kept asking what was happening, and they said, “The baby’s heart rate is at 50.” I knew how low that heart rate was and that they were probably going to try to get him out as soon as possible. I just kept thinking: We made it this far, this cannot be how this ends. It wasn’t that I was worried about having a C-section — I just knew how dangerously low his heart rate was, and thinking about his health and survival.

There were about 20 people in the operating room. A nurse gave me a shot to try to stop the contractions. We were all staring at the monitor. All of a sudden, the heart rate shot back up. The doctor said it was called off; everyone could go. Afterward, the doctor asked us if we wanted to try again and told us that she was going to just do the C-section if his heart rate dropped again. She recommended we choose a C-section instead of waiting for an emergency.

Since it was a matter of his health, we decided to go for the C-section. It was scary and not at all how I thought I’d give birth, but there was one really nice part: The doctor said, “He’s about to be born!” right before pulling him out.

Until they had to take him to clean him off and check him, we were able to kiss him and touch him through the curtain. We kept saying, “Hi, baby! Hi, baby!” After they were done, they put him on my chest and I held him for a while. That was how he was born.

On the aftershocks of traumatic pregnancy. Around 34 weeks, I decided to see someone about how I’d been feeling — not great, emotionally and mentally. My husband found a therapist in our neighborhood who makes home visits, specifically for women who are pregnant or new moms. I thought I’d see her for a few weeks, but because I stayed pregnant I saw her for longer, with just a break to have my son, and then through my whole maternity leave. Early parenthood, for me, was really challenging because I was so emotionally exhausted. We’d been preparing for a trauma, which never quite happened. I felt like I didn’t have any reserves left.

I was so happy that I made it to term. I was so happy he was okay. But it felt like that almost invalidated everything we’d been through. Yes, we have a healthy baby, which I’m beyond grateful for — but we still dealt with pure terror for months. We were so afraid of what was going to happen. It was like the trauma that wasn’t. I didn’t know how to explain to other people how physically and emotionally exhausting it was, when they just saw that everything turned out okay.

On expanding her family. I know I want to have another kid, but I’m terrified of getting pregnant again. I’m thinking about adoption. Part of me wonders if all this happened so that would be what we’d do. I just have this feeling that maybe there’s another baby out there for us. And maybe that’s why we went through everything we went through — to connect with that baby.

Plus, when I got pregnant, Obama was president. I thought Hillary Clinton was going to be our next president. Now I really wonder about bringing someone else into the world. I’m so happy my son is here, that we made it, but the world looks and feels different to me now.

The Mom Who Toured the NICU While Pregnant