My brother called me at 10pm last week and told me in a shaky voice, “The baby has to come out now.” It was four weeks before their due date.
They had just received some test results diagnosing my sister-in-law with cholestasis, a liver disease where the normal flow of bile in the gallbladder becomes affected by pregnancy hormones. The bile flow becomes stopped or slowed causing a build up of acids in the liver which can spill into the bloodstream, increasing the risk of stillbirth. She and my brother needed to check into the hospital immediately, while they evaluated her and eventually induce labor.
They were completely freaked out. Mentally, they were not prepared. Logistically, they were not prepared. The nursery was not finished, the room only housing a few big pieces of furniture and the onslaught of gifts that had steadily been arriving the past few months, all still in boxes. They had no carseat. They hadn’t finished their parenting classes. And both sets of parents had plane tickets booked for the following month.
I got to the hospital as soon as I could and sat with them for many hours.
They waited on test results to see if the baby’s lungs had reached maturity, and could handle being outside the womb.
They fretted about brain development, and what the effects of delivering four weeks early would have on his eventual intelligence. My brother googled ‘famous preemies’ and ‘professional athletes that were preemies” to find some reassurance. They sought opinions from as many doctors as they could contact. They were told that the risk of the cholestasis harming the baby outweighed any risks to brain development. But ultimately, the choice was theirs. They could wait it out in the hospital another week, with heavy monitoring, and let the baby continue to gestate a little longer. But this increased the risk that the bile could contaminate the placenta, putting the baby in immediate danger, and would lead them straight to an emergency c-section.
Deciding whether to go ahead and induce labor is intense. My sister-in-law burst into tears.
Thirty-six hours after checking into the hospital, the labor began. About eighteen hours after that, my nephew was born, limp, and not breathing. Fifteen terrifying minutes later he was stable, breathing, crying, and a healthy 7 pounds.
In between the long hours I spent at the hospital, helping them think through decisions, attempting to provide comfort and enough entertainment to help pass the time, I started to prepare for the baby’s arrival. I drove around LA, looking for the exact right car seat that they wanted. I made big batches of soup, so they would have a meal to come home to. I stocked their pantry with groceries.
And then I tackled the nursery.
I spent two days in there, quietly opening boxes of books and toys, of swaddles and blankets. I spent an afternoon washing and folding onesies, separating them carefully into neat piles. Long sleeve onesies over here. Footed onesies over there. I googled how to organize a changing table, labeling all the drawers, changing my mind again and again about the order of the items. I arranged the stuffed animals and took pictures of my dog snarling at a yellow lion perched on a shelf, clearly taunting her with its gaze. I hung a welcome banner.
It was hard, and it was easy. Focusing on a project, however ladled with emotional triggers it was, helped to focus my intention. In the midst of the chaos and intensity from these turn of events, I wanted to make their transition home a smidgen easier. I wanted them too to feel swaddled with love and support.
But my emotions still swung and still needed to be managed. When the doctors would come in to the hospital room to perform an exam, I would step into the hall and wait. Stand there quietly with no distractions, with the buzz of pregnancy and labor and birth all around me. And I would feel sad and tired. I would crave to go back into the room and shut the door to shield myself. At least in that room I had family and love and my soon to be nephew to help me through.
And then my nephew came and I love him. Even though the envy is still there, the sad desire, and the memory of my losses remain, I love him. And I want to be around him all the time.
It was an intense week, but this is what I learned.
I learned that all of our bodies can fail us. I got pregnant at the same time my sister-in-law did, and then I lost it. Her pregnant glow and growing belly symbolized a stark reminder of the failings of my own. Her body, doing perfectly what it was supposed to do, my own, a constant source of emotional pain. But after eight months of a seemingly perfect pregnancy, her body failed her too. Developing a condition that would harm her own baby in a serious way. Forcing her into an emergency induction.
I learned in the most visceral way that it’s possible to feel an intense mash up of paradoxical emotions. Happiness, melancholy, excitement, anguish, nervousness, depression, envy, desire, love, and sometimes numbness. I felt the waves of all those feelings, coming in and out, sometimes all at once, sometimes not at all.
And I learned that sometimes cliches are true. Your love for someone can trump all. No matter my history, my losses, my own pain and difficulty around pregnancy and babies, my brother, sister-in-law, and nephew come first. Helping them ease into parenthood amidst a scary, unexpected ordeal became my first priority.
And I had no mixed feelings around that.