ON THE ANNIVERSARY OF AIDAN’S 3rd WEEK IN THE WORLD, I'VE DECIDED TO SHARE WITH YOU ALL THE GLORIOUS BUT GORY DETAILS…
I’ll admit I found myself feeling maybe a bit too proud of having such an easy, healthy pregnancy. I had no morning sickness and no exhaustion during any of it. I was exercising daily, touring and performing up until my 9th month and bicycling through the crazy streets of Manhattan from Harlem all the way downtown each week. Cycling was my best source of transport because the only truly unbearable options were the summer stench-oven of the subway platform and being smushed in like cattle in the crowded subway cars, or riding in a taxi with the requisite herky-jerky, Tasmanian Devil driving. So biking was my salvation and I loved it!
I remained excited for the challenge of an all natural pregnancy. Ready to battle-test my pain threshold. I got my birthing ball (although I really had no idea what the hell to do with that thing - it just sounded cool) and I requested the squatting bar in my hospital bed like the birthing class instructor told us to. I insisted in my (ultimately useless) “birth plan” not to be offered the epidural unless I begged for it. I wanted to do this with no drugs in my system for both the baby’s sake and mine. I was sure that my honeymoon pregnancy was a clear indication that I’d pull this off. Last but not least, especially for most of us women, I was thrilled to have only gained 28 pounds (12.7kg). The average healthy weight gain, I'm told, is approximately 25-35 pounds (12-16 kg). It was easy, I just ate right and only when I was hungry and kept moving according to all the exercise safety guidelines. Great! Less work for me to do getting rid of those extra pounds while exhausted and tied down with a newborn! Then, at 39 weeks things began to change, however it was too subtle to know yet what hell was about to come.
At this point, I had been to see my doctor every week starting at week 36. My appointments were actually at the week and 5 day mark every Wednesday. Each week they’d check the baby via ultrasound and check all of my vitals. By week 38/5days I was at the 28 pound mark and only just beginning to swell a little in my feet and calves, just the normal pregnancy stuff. My usually low blood pressure was starting to creep up a bit and although higher than normal for me, not too high for medical concern. By week 39, I had gained 10 more pounds, seemingly overnight and my blood pressure was consistently in the 120’s/80’s which the doc said still wasn't out of the normal range. The weight gain surprised me as the normal is considered to be 1-2 pounds a week, not 10, but I wasn't yet concerned as I thought this was all part of a normal pregnancy! I was alternately happy to finally have a bigger belly because people kept saying mine looked too small for how far along I was in the pregnancy which was making me paranoid that my baby wasn’t growing well even though the weekly ultrasounds kept showing me that this was a big baby. *Note to pregnant or soon to be pregnant women. All science says that the mother's belly size has nothing to do with size of the baby. This is especially true when you’re over 6 feet tall (1.8m) My boy, Aidan just had much more room to stretch out in. He was comfy in there. In fact, he was too comfy…
By the 39 week, 5 day visit, my cervix still hadn’t budged. As one gets closer to labor, the cervix should start dilating and softening. Neither had started with me yet and I knew what was coming next because I had taken the birthing and labor weekend intensive classes and had read several of the hippest books, all of which said not to let the doctor induce labor just because a baby is late. In fact, according to the Mayo Clinic, it’s not uncommon for the first born, especially if it’s a boy, to be up to two weeks late. After that, yes, you would want to induce labor if nothing has happened. But I was still not officially past my due date, so when my doc suggested I be admitted that night to induce labor I said I’d rather wait until the next visit, which would be only 5 days past my due date. No problem right? She agreed, but sent me for what’s called Fetal Monitoring, where they hook you up to a machine that listens to and evaluates the baby’s heart beat for 30 minutes to make sure the baby is under no stress. It’s actually quite pleasant to lay in a comfy chair in a quiet, darkened room and listen to your baby’s heart beat. So meditative. His heart beat was great and his scan also showed happy comfy baby! Great! I could wait for the following visit scheduled one week later for Wednesday, September 7th with the hope that labor would begin naturally before then, but if not, I’d have to be open to the induced labor. Deal.
I had a lovely Labor Day weekend. I was so proud of my (finally) HUGE belly that many of you may have seen the photo of me sporting it with the George Washington Bridge behind me on that Sunday. I did notice that day while picnicking with friends, that my feet and ankles had gotten huge. Ok well, that’s just pregnancy. We say your ankles have become “cankles” because they’ve merged with your calf and you can’t tell where one ends and the other begins. Later that Sunday evening just before bed the swelling had also traveled up to my thighs making them literally twice their size. I even texted my friends laughing that I must have picnicked way too much that day. That night, I came down with a headache, which is a very rare occurrence for me. Again, I chalked it up to pregnancy, out in the sun all day, too much dessert. No biggie.
Monday I woke up feeling fine, just fat! No worries, he was coming out soon. I waddled through the next few days until it was time for my Wednesday appointment. I got on the scale that morning and was shocked to see that I was now a whopping 200 pounds! Up another 10lbs!
Yup, 90 kilos! 14 stone!!! Ok, now something was off and I was going to have to be open to induction but I was still hoping we could maybe push it to the following Monday because I had plans that week and didn’t want to be stuck in hospital on the weekend. I would still be less than 2 weeks late if I waited until the following Monday to induce. Everyone I spoke with agreed that this was good and this boy should be left to come naturally on his own. Several friends had the same issue and induced at 42 weeks and this would still be less than that and those friends all had boys too.
So, on Wednesday September 7th at 2pm, they did my ultrasound and baby Aidan looked great. They did the Fetal Monitoring and his heart sounded great and even vivacious! The name Aidan means “Little Fire” and my little fire was thriving in me. Next stop was to see the doc and discuss a plan and this is when my best laid plans went to serious hell…
The lovely nurse who did Aidan’s monitoring joked and said, “Ok we don’t have to evict him today and you can go home as long as your blood pressure is ok and your urine shows no protein.” So far every visit they had checked both and I was totally in the clear. I was looking forward to my planned evening of dinner at home and a couple of episodes of Mr. Robot.
Suddenly, a nurse alarmingly tells me that my blood pressure is 172/100, there’s high levels of protein in my urine and I was going straight to the high risk delivery floor. SAY WHAT!? I was now getting pretty freaked out. “What does this mean?” I asked. She replied, “It means you have “preeclampsia!” I’d already read about preeclampsia because it’s something that can happen to some pregnant women, particularly 40 and older, 18 or younger and anyone carrying multiples. But it usually starts earlier in pregnancy and I had been tested for it weekly. This was not part of the plan.
It was 5:30pm when I finally got into my room and by 6pm I had a severe headache the likes of which I've never known. I felt as if my head would explode off my neck. Actually, I kind of wished it just would for some relief! In addition, I could barely see anything as my vision continuously grew more and more blurry, which is another symptom of preeclampsia. By 8pm I was hooked to an IV for fluids because I couldn’t stop vomiting and by around 9:30pm they had to hook me up to another IV for an aggressive magnesium treatment because I was vomiting, shaking uncontrollably and according to doctors, at high risk for seizure or stroke. Once the magnesium started I got even more sick. Nothing they gave me would take down the headache or the blood pressure. For the next couple of hours all I could do was lie there vomiting and trying to breathe through the worst pain I have ever felt. Next, I began shaking uncontrollably and at that point the medical team rushed in to inform me that I needed an immediate c-section or I would most certainly have a stroke. I had been adamant in my birth plan about no c-section as I was warned that the docs like to do them these days because it is more expedient than potential hours of labor. But in my case, it was the only way I was going to survive. What a scary thing to hear. A badass young nurse came in and grabbed both my arms and said, “Sweetheart we can’t fuck around anymore - this baby needs to come out now!” I laughed, cried and surrendered.
They immediately wheeled me to the operating room where the night shift team of doctors and nurses, who all looked about 21 years of age, were quickly moving about shouting orders at each other in super-rushed but unalarmed tones. They were cracking jokes about TV shows, teasing me for not taking off my toe ring and discussing where to find a metal cutter to remove it before my toe became a sausage link!
Then came epidural time and within minutes I could feel nothing from the waist down. Such a powerfully strange and scary feeling. You have to really surrender to the powerlessness of this paralysis. Don't do what I did and keep trying to move your legs or wiggle your toes. It’s terrifying and I went to such a place of compassion for those who have to endure this full time. Shortly after I was numb, they gave me the rest of the anesthesia to make the incision. This is where I want to faint even now as I type. I’m a wimp with this stuff in general and I have to look away even when someone is just shaving in a movie scene! Minutes after the anesthesia was administered the young doctor said, “Ok you’re going to feel some heavy pressure now.” Whoa! He was not kidding! It felt like an 18 wheeler big rig truck was just rolling over my abdomen again and again but with no pain, only heavy heavy pressure.
At close to midnight the anesthesiologist, who was the betting man in the room, was calling for action on whether Aidan would make his debut on Sept 7th or 8th. Then suddenly there was a clamoring and someone said, “Ok here he comes!” Within seconds I heard his cries. A fraction of a second after that I began my own. All I could mumble out while matching his crying was, "Is he really here? Is he ok? Can I have him?" They set him on my chest as they put me back together. We both just lay there quietly whimpering at this point. His bare little body on my bare chest was a feeling words can’t explain and one that I will never ever forget. I know so many of you who know just what I mean.
By the time I got settled in my room they brought him back and placed him on me to see if he would nurse. They wanted to see if he would take to it naturally and right away. Well, I’m one proud mama to say that this little sucker (pun very much intended) found that nipple instantly and latched on like a pro! Everyone in the room cheered. I had read beforehand that it’s often not that easy and it was something I was hoping to be able to do but knowing so many women who couldn’t or didn’t I was prepared for it not to work. But lo and behold, he’s a real pro and my bond with him in breast feeding is a saving grace. I call him my Lil' Champ, (based on a tiny convenience market from my childhood.)
Look out moms and dads with baby girls cuz clearly I have a breast man on my hands.
About breastfeeding, I’ve heard stories of people being offended seeing women who do this in public and I’ve met women who were shy or uncomfortable doing it. What a sad thing. Breast feeding is such a miraculous gift if our bodies allow it or if a woman chooses to do it. Many women choose not to, like my own mother and there’s absolutely nothing wrong with that. Many women can’t and that’s just the toss of the dice. But those who can and want to should feel it their right to do it whenever and wherever necessary without shame or shyness!
Having this little boy on me pretty much around the clock either nursing or sleeping is what got me through those first horrific and terrifying days in the hospital where I was constantly being told I was still at high risk of seizure or stroke. I remained hooked up to all kinds of monitors, intravenous anti seizure medications and nutritional fluids. I continued to vomit violently every hour, even though all I was able to put in my mouth was ice chips. My precious boy stayed with me every step of the way. He was my true beacon of hope and the thing I knew I had to recover for with both of us clinging to and needing each other so desperately.
Finally, by day 5 in hospital the blood pressure medications began to work and my pressure started coming down below the critical stroke warning level, but still too high to go home yet. At this point, they moved me to a “less acute” floor which was supposed to be a good thing and they wanted the baby off me insisting we’d both sleep more and so they put him next to me in a clear high crib and left us. He was out of reach and I was still too swollen and sore to move but when I saw him begin spitting up severely while lying on his back I just plowed through the pain twisting my newly replaced guts and forced myself up to grab him! I tried calling the nurses cell phones but they were on break and the call button didn’t work. I had sent Papa home to get some sleep thinking things would be ok and I’d finally sleep believing I was out of danger. But not quite! Suddenly one of the main docs came in saw my vitals and said I should have never been removed from the high risk floor and that I was indeed still at high risk of stroke. Terrible news to get but relieved to go back up to the nicer room with giant window and more constant care from the incredible nurses! I have to say, it was remarkable to me how many times just before taking my blood pressure someone would tell me that I needed to relax so it would go down or I’d have a stroke. How the hell is that supposed to work to relax a person? Conversely, I’d be told I just needed to relax and get some sleep yet they’d come in every 30 minutes to take vitals or replace empty fluid bags that were beeping non stop! That’s the hospital for you. My dad always said it’s the hospitals that will kill you. Hmm, he had a point.
I had an "Only In New York" moment as I shared my high risk room with an awesome couple named, Matt and Dana. It turns out Matt is the founder of Field Trip Jerky, which is a staple road food for Jon Diamond while we are on tour! Matt sent us a nice gift pack! It was really nice to spend time with them and I'm hoping we can stay in touch.
The next day I was doing much better and the docs just really wanted me to sleep and they agreed I could go home the following day with baby Aidan and a visiting nurse. Hallelujah!
That night with Aidan on my chest, knowing I'd be out of the hospital soon, I slept for the first time in almost a week! I woke to a team of doctors all smiling and saying I should be out of the woods soon.
Later that day, I was taken home with my baby where I’ve been ever since getting stronger and stronger.
I'm happy to report today that my blood pressure is now finally back to normal and I’m feeling a bit more like myself again. Although still just a little sore from the surgery. That’s the mystery of preeclampsia. It comes on so suddenly and so deadly then usually resolves itself in a couple of weeks if you’re one of the lucky ones. I’m happy to report that I am! Aidan has begun his visits to the pediatrician and so far he’s super healthy. He’s eating like a champ and is a real serious sleeper like his mama! YAY!
We had our first real outing in the city yesterday and applied for his passport! :-)
I’ll admit that I was starting to become skeptical of all the moms out there always saying that the love for your child is a kind of love you can’t imagine until you experience it and that all the heartache, worry and sacrifice is worth it. All the time sitting, rocking and nursing Aidan thus far has given me time to reflect on my own mom and I've been flooded with memories of how she so lovingly and dutifully cared for me and my siblings when we were growing up. One time, when I was very young, I remember I had been bitten by those nasty Florida fire ants and my mom cleaned me up and sat and rocked me in her rocking chair and petted my head to sooth me. One day, I will rock Aidan in this very same chair.
Well, it’s all still very early on but I can say that this little fire kicked my ASS coming into this world, but so far he is worth every bit of the pain and fear. My heart has never known a deeper love. All he really even does right now is eat, sleep, pee, fart and poop and somehow that is all so amazing and beautiful to me. I hear it gets even better (hahaha) and harder.
I want to personally thank you all for sharing this experience with me. As I lay in the hospital bed, I saw so many of you in my mind and imagined telling you all this story. I reflected on the past 9 months and the drawers full of clothes and gifts from Aidan’s extended family all over the world. Every time I dress him I’m moved to tears by the fact that each adorable one of his little suits has come from one of you.
Thank you all for you infectious joy and encouragement through these past several months. I have felt you with us every step of the way and I’m convinced Aidan has too. I can’t wait for you to meet my Little Fire, who by the way, has been on my chest the entire time I’ve been typing.
Love and Gratitude,