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Every first time mom envisions their delivery day to be easy and full of joy (after the actual birth, of course). The joys of holding her baby for the first time, attempting to breastfeed (or bottle, if she prefers), and all the attention from family and friends. No first time mom imagines anything bad will happen beyond a terribly long and uncomfortable labor and delivery. For me, it was no different, except that my labor and delivery lasted no more than five hours... such a blessing that was, too. My birth plan included doing it without drugs, but my contractions were so close together that I wasn't dilating. My nurse encouraged me to get the epidural before it was too late, even had my mom talk me into it, and I gladly accepted as I barely had time to breathe between contractions. The thought of not dilating and prolonging this pain was worse than the idea of not being "brave" and doing it naturally. Everything else about the birth of my son, however, was anything but normal.
My son, born on Pearl Harbor Day in the year 2000 at 12:01 PM, was born with a semi-rare heart condition. I say "semi" because this particular condition is normally found in elderly people and not in newborn babies. He was given a 30% survival rating with Apgar scores of 0 and 1. The first time I saw my son since his birth was when they brought him to me in an incubator meant to rush him to another hospital where they were better equipped to deal with infant heart conditions. I didn't even get to touch him, let alone hold him.
At the new hospital, he was quickly put on a life-saving machine called ECMO (Extra corporeal membrane oxygenation). This is basically a highly sophisticated heart-lung bypass machine that takes the oxygen-less blood from the body, "pumps" it, oxygenates it, and sends it back to the body. This is done via TWO cannulas inserted into the major arteries in his neck. After 20 days of being on ECMO, he was deemed stable enough to be on his own, with, of course, some medication to help his heart pump. What we were told during his stay is that he has cardiomyopathy, a condition usually found in people who have suffered a heart attack. Yes, a HEART ATTACK, one he suffered in utero (while I was pregnant with him). Strange thing to hear about an unborn baby, but there they were, the words that tore me apart, and continue to do so 18 years later. As an expectant mother, I knew exactly when it happened, too, but doctors ignored my pain, saying I was "dehydrated." You see, I was having severe pain and cramping about 4 weeks before the due date. In hindsight, they were definitely NOT the same as Braxton Hicks, or even the real thing. It was most assuredly REAL pain, pain I now know was my baby suffering in silence. The only thing that saved him at this point was that the damage occurred on the side of his heart that was not required in utero, the left side, which is used to pump blood to the lungs, organs he was not using yet. Still, he was born eight days early, and a good thing, too. Much longer and he probably would have died from ingesting the meconium that came out with him when he was born. I will spare you the gross details about what that is, but feel free to look it up.
So, anyway, eight short hours after delivery, I was headed to the other hospital to be with my son. If I was scared before, I was down right terrified when I saw him hooked up to this monstrous looking machine with cords and wires coming out of him from every hole he had, including an intubation tube for breathing. While there, I had to sign a bunch of consent forms, consent I had to give over the phone prior to this, and learn all I could about the machine and meds he was on. I also learned his lungs were full of fluid, and respiratory techs had to come in every little while, gently tap on his chest to loosen it, and suction the fluid out. As much as I wanted to stay there with him, I was not allowed, and thoroughly encouraged to go home and rest; it was, after all, not even 24 hours since delivery. I was only allowed to be there a couple hours a day moving forward. There wasn't much I could do there, anyway.
This was certainly not the way I envisioned the birth and the first hours with my son.
Since this is bringing up such painful memories for me, I will stop for today. Please stay tuned for Part 2.