Monday, August 3, 2009

When Motherhood Doesn't Go According to Plan (Part 1 of 3)

Operation Baby Banuelos
I am a planner. I plan out the next day at night before I go to bed. I plan out the week's meals on Sundays. I even made a pregnancy plan. I sketched out exactly what becoming a mother would be like. Here is how "Operation Baby Banuelos" worked in my mind:
  1. Decide to have a baby
  2. After only 1 month of "trying," see 2 blue lines!
  3. Look and feel great for 9 months
  4. Have an easy, fast labor at 40 weeks
  5. Bring beautiful, healthy baby home and live happily ever after!
I soon discovered that being a parent rarely goes according to plan. Here is what "Operation Baby Banuelos" taught me:
  1. Deciding to get pregnant is the easiest part!
  2. Getting pregnant right away isn't always as easy
  3. Being pregnant isn't always fun
  4. You can't plan when labor will start
  5. Newborns don't always get to come home right away
Looking back, I realize I was more than a little idealistic. But for me, being a mother was something I had always dreamed about. Sure, I knew about morning sickness, premature labor, and the increasing prevalence of infertility. I was pursuing a Master's Degree in Maternal and Child Nutrition, so I knew more than most people about pregnancy and all of the possible risks. I just never considered that complications would be part of my story. They weren't part of my plan.

In this post, I will share my experience with early labor and the birth of my daughter. Next time I will describe what it was like leaving the hospital without my baby. Finally, in Part 3, I will share tips for coping and making the best of a difficult situation.

Briefly: Steps 1-4 of my story
For us, step 1, deciding to have a baby, was the easiest part. But it took 2 years to get to step 2. Once I finally got pregnant, I was determined to do everything right. I stopped moving heavy boxes; I left the house when my husband was painting; I bought more fruits and vegetables; I planned (there is that word again!) to go for walks in the evenings. Unfortunately, following a plan is hard when you can't even keep water down. I was so sick that I lost 10 pounds during the first 3 months of my pregnancy and I struggled to get to work each day. Just as I thought step 3 was a lost cause, I started to feel better. I had more energy, could eat real food, and I started to enjoy being pregnant. I began to feel my baby move and we found out we were having a girl!

Unfortunately, step 4 came much earlier than we expected. At 24 weeks, I noticed a little spotting and even though my doctor assured me that it was nothing to worry about, I made an appointment. What started out as a quick check-up over my lunch hour, turned into immediate admission into the hospital. At first, everything happened so quickly that there wasn't much explanation about what was going on. All we knew was that I was already dilated to 3 centimeters and we had to stop the labor. I was taken to a hospital equipped for high risk pregnancies and things improved. I wasn't having contractions, the labor didn't seem to be progressing, and I came to terms with the fact that the best thing for my baby was for me to stay in the hospital for as long as possible. But, on my 6th day in the hospital, my baby flipped over and started kicking downward. We couldn't wait any longer. Olivia was born 15 weeks early, at 25 weeks gestation. She weighed only 1 pound 15 ounces and was 13 inches long.

Step 5: Bring beautiful, healthy baby home and live happily ever after
Needless to say, with step 4 going so wrong, step 5 was thrown out the window. We knew that babies born so early faced an uphill battle and that our daughter would struggle just to survive. According to the March of Dimes, 1% of babies in the United States are born before 28 weeks and of those born at 26 weeks, 80% survive. Olivia was born at a time when research shows that things could go either way.

There are 2 things I remember clearly about those first few days. First, I remember how excited I was to take a shower! It had been 8 days since I was allowed to shower and it felt so good! The other thing, even better than the shower, was the first time I was able to take some of my breast milk to the NICU! I started pumping just a few hours after getting back from the recovery room because I knew how important my milk would be to Olivia. Since she was too small and weak to nurse, I needed to pump frequently to stimulate my the milk to come in. By day 3, the doctors had decided to start feeding her through an OG-tube, which is a tiny tube that went into her mouth and down to her stomach. I remember the first time I got any milk out, I had less than 1 milliliter of colostrum to take to her, but I was so excited. I carried it over to the NICU in a tiny syringe. It was the first time I felt like I could do something to care for my baby, and that was the best feeling I had had in days!

Just a few days after Olivia was born, it was time for me to be discharged from the hospital. I had mixed emotions about going home. On the one hand, I was glad to be leaving the hospital. I had been in bed for over a week, so the idea of being able to go outside (or even to the kitchen to get something for myself) was thrilling. On the other hand, I knew that I would be leaving my baby in the hospital and home was 30 miles away. Because I had a C-section, I was not allowed to drive for a few weeks after the surgery. My friends and family were very supportive and worked out a system to make sure I always had someone to take me back and forth. But, even though all of their support was appreciated, they couldn't make me feel any less helpless.

Next time I will continue the story about Olivia's time in the hospital and what it was like when we were finally able to bring her home.


  1. I appreciate this post so much. I too had a maternal "plan" that went awry. I had a fairly normal first pregancy, but at my 38 wk. appointment, we discovered that my baby was breech. The next morning, I went into the hospital and the Dr. tried to turn him. That didn't take, so they performed a C-Section. My son had some complications after delivery, and was taken into the nursery that night, and transfered to a hospital with a NICU the next day, where he stayed for 2 weeks. We went through some of the same issues: going home without him (I couldn't even look at his room), needing a breast pump immediatly- and trying to get your milk to come in while pumping in the middle of the night, looking at a picture of your baby and crying, and the trips to the hospital where we could touch and talk to our baby, but not hold him becuase of the wires and tubes. In the scheme of things, his stay was a minor part of his life, and he is a perfect 3 1/2 yr old now, but at the time it was nothing less than traumatic. One of the most interesting things was to discover that my husband and I dealt with it so differently. This was exteremly obvious when I was pregant with my 2nd child. My husband was very worried about complications, and said that he didn't think he could go through something like that again. I felt as though I had gotten through it once, and so I could do anything. Luckily, we had a healthy 2nd baby who came home with us right away.

  2. Thank you so much for sharing your story with us!

    I vividly remember spending many nights pumping, with a picture of Olivia in my hand, and more tears than milk. I remember feeling like no one understood and that my life would never be the same. I was right that my life would never be the same, but that hasn't been a bad thing!

    I also completely understand that men and women often handle things differently. Based on our experience, I would say that keeping communication open and really trying to understand each other's feelings is the key to reducing stress in your relationship.

    I am glad that you felt so confident with your second baby! In our case (not that we are ready for number 2 yet) the roles have been opposite - until recently, I wouldn’t even discuss baby #2. Over time, however, I have gotten more and more comfortable with the idea. Just talking (and writing) about my experience has been extremely helpful for me. I no longer feel anxious and nervous talking about Olivia’s birth and that has helped me get one step closer to baby #2! My advice for anyone in a similar situation is to be prepared. You can talk to your doctor about what the next pregnancy would be like. You can also talk to other mothers who have had similar experiences. The good thing about baby #2 (or 3 or 4 or 5!) is that you can be better prepared for the possible problems that may arise.

    Later this week, I will post Part 2 about dealing with the trips to the hospital and what it was like to bring Olivia home. It is my hope that our story and the tips that I share will help parents in similar situations to feel a little less alone and helpless.

  3. Thanks for posting such a positive view of what must have been a terrible time.

  4. this is very motivating ... thanks