All about Harry, part 1: the gestational period

I've got a thing with pregnancies. I make great babies, but it takes a toll.

With Ethan, I had intrahepatic cholestasis of pregnancy. It's a condition where the liver doesn't function properly, bile acids enter the bloodstream and collect in the skin, and it results in painful, nearly unrelenting itchiness, particularly on the hands and feet. It can also be dangerous for the baby, whose little body depends on the mother's to help it along with things like liver function, so Ethan was delivered three weeks early, on purpose.

With Oliver, a full five years later, I developed gestational diabetes...on top of hyperemesis gravidarum. Known around here as The Barfs. And then very late on I got cholestasis again, too, so Oliver was delivered two weeks early, on purpose. (Here's his birth story.)

Yet another five years later, I fell pregnant once again. (That's how the British said it about a century ago, which I love. It so fits in with their sense of propriety. Like you were minding your own business and happened upon it.)

We stayed on top of monitoring all the possible conditions, which did absolutely nothing to prevent the onslaught of those conditions. Only this time I also had been diagnosed with an autoimmune disorder prior to pregnancy, so they'd be watching the baby extra closely as well. Knowledge is power! I mean, terror!

As is my way, I barely gained any weight during the pregnancy. Back when I was pregnant, I was lovely and slim with an adorable bowling ball up front. Granted I was also nauseated and appetite-less. I'm going to stop your resentment train right there, though, for now I'm covered in a squishy layer of flubber with a deflated beach ball up front. Breastfeeding weight loss is a lie, I tell you! 

I'd also like to note at this time that the great Serena Williams had to stop breastfeeding because she couldn't lose weight, in spite of her vegan and sugar-free diet. It's remarkable how similar we are. Right down to the power tennis.

Anyway, because of the lupus, I had to see a pediatric cardiologist a few times for detailed sonograms, to make sure that my autoimmune problem didn't affect the baby's heart. Praises be, it didn't. But every time I sat in that waiting room, looking at all the toys and enrichment for the tiny patients, a pang of that thing all mothers feel would hit. What's the word? Oh yeah: panic!

Two special medications, blood-sugar monitoring four times a day, fetal non-stress tests once a week, fetal echocardiograms every two weeks, quarterly rheumatologist appointments...being pregnant on Mars would require the same level of analysis. But it was all for the sake of the baby, and I was just fine with that. 

During this time, my sister-in-law's sister-in-law told me about an ultrasound training program at the hospital that needed expectant mothers as "models." Though at that point my doctors essentially had me on a Panda Cam, I couldn't resist another opportunity to have a peek at the little guy.

After about an hour of trainees fumbling about, struggling to measure the shin bone and head circumference like a bunch of noobs, the director of the program said she wanted to have a little look. She had noticed a small pocket of fluid next to one of the baby's kidneys. Probably nothing to worry about, but she'd forward the images to my obstetrician. 

We scheduled a couple of pediatric nephrology sonograms, during which they determined it was probably just some kidney reflux. It isn't uncommon and may not even require any special treatment after birth. So that, for the time being, was that.

Thus began the journey we have yet to conclude regarding That Pocket of Fluid in the Baby's Abdomen.

On January 2, almost five weeks before my due date (though at that point we knew he'd need to be delivered three weeks early), I went into preterm labor.

The surprise of labor had never happened to me before, what with the two previous early inductions. The rhythmic contractions, increasing in intensity—now that was wild. It reminded me of being in earthquakes in Los Angeles: out of my control, but somehow directed, almost like the tides, lunar even, a first principle of life.

In short, it hurt like heck.

Oliver's time as youngest was short.

Oliver's time as youngest was short.

Ethan and Oliver grabbed their backpacks and headed to my parents' house while Noah and I drove to the hospital. I was having contractions every three minutes and each one lasted a minute. Though I was uncomfortable, I was also thrilled with the experience. A little worried at the early date, sure, but excited as well.

I never even saw a doctor. The triage nurse couldn't find my cervix, which was just about as uncomfortable as the contractions themselves. I was about to offer her a GPS, but she finally located it—I mean, it's a cervix, not one of the former Eastern Bloc countries over there in a nebulous mass, but whatever—the doc, via phone, felt I wasn't far enough along to allow things to progress. I got an injection of an asthma medicine (dual purpose, apparently!) and a bill for $1,000, with a prescription for rest and hydration on the way out the door.

Like the paratroopers awaiting their jump into Normandy, I was told to stand down. No jump tonight.

I felt a bit ill and achy the next day, as though my body was rebelling against the labor stoppage. But eventually I felt a little better, and the bun stayed in the oven for nine more days. January 11, we decided with my doctors, would be D-Day.

Luckily, the hospital called and told me not to come in until 9:30 in the morning. With Ethan, it had been 6am, with Oliver, 7, I think. So I got a decent night's sleep and had time to snuggle my big boys one more time, Oliver sitting on the bed next to me, helping me with my "makeups." (He typically chooses pinks and purples for my eye shadow, something nude for the lips.)

Noah and I waited for an hour before being called back to my labor and delivery room. News of the California mudslides played on the TV. An expectant father came in for the vending machine and sat down nearby. He struck up a conversation—he said he thought he wouldn't be that kind of guy, but it was their first baby, his wife had been in labor since yesterday, and here he was, chatting to strangers. He turned out to be the chief resident of neurology at the other hospital in town.

Finally, it was our turn. I knew the drill: into the gown, fetal monitor on, IV in, antibiotic and oxytocin drip started. After lunch, my parents, the boys, and Noah's dad came to the hospital. We took our last photo together as a family of four.

Then, it was go time.