If I am a harbinger, then we have some work to do.
Over the last eight years, whether I knew it or not, I have been working to awaken.
I didn’t even know what that meant eight years ago. Yet here I am.
When my daughter was born, my heart broke open – a heart that had been pushed so far beneath the surface for so long that I believed that the plastic replica I sometimes felt beating in my chest was my true heart.
The day my daughter was born was both one of the worst days in my life and one of the best.
My blood pressure had skyrocketed and left me in the Intensive Care Unit fighting for my life.
My daughter spent five days in the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit. Not because she needed to, but because I was fighting for my life and my husband was a mess, terrified that I would die.
In between spikes that left me incognizant, I grieved my daughter having to spend the first days of her life without her parents.
The nurses allowed her to be brought into my cubicle until a man with a deadly communicable disease came in for care.
Then my focus became finding a way to get to her.
My legs were useless because I had been in bed ever since a C-section. My husband, who I had known since high school, lifted me from the gurney hospital bed and plopped me into a wheelchair.
He wheeled me over to the NICU to see our beautiful daughter. He scooped her out of the clear plastic crib and put her in my arms.
I made sure my IV pole was not in the way of parents who were struggling with greater problems than us.
I wanted to breastfeed, but she wanted to sleep.
Our daughter was perfect. She was healthy and she had accepted her temporary suffering. The suffering of being taken from her mother’s womb and being left in a room with other babies and nurses who, though they were amazing and perfect and absolute life savers, did not smell like mommy.
The on-call OBGYNs came in twice a day to check my chart. The ICU nurses came running every time the blood pressure spiking alarm was set off.
After having certain visitors set off the monitor each visit, the nurses suggested that I ask them to leave.
I was terrified. I was not strong. I was still, after everything I had been through, afraid to hurt their feelings. I believed that they loved me and I was raised to not hurt feelings.
One nurse stepped in and cut a visit short, suggesting that they not visit me in the ICU anymore.
I was in the Intensive Care Unit for five days.
Normally, pregnancy-induced high blood pressure is cured immediately or soon after a baby is born.
My body is not normal. And the spikes were not coming solely from the additional strain of carrying a child.
My blood pressure was not stabilizing. Not with constant flow of liquid medicine, not with the additional medicine and measures taken under the careful and skilled watch of nurses and specialists.
And then, finally, on day four, I experienced reasonable stabilization. Enough for the doctors to say I could have my IV taken out and see how the oral medication did.
My blood pressure stayed stable enough for talk about soon being moved to a maternity ward room. With my daughter!
I didn’t say anything after hearing that, other than, “What needs to happen before I can do that.”
All evening I pestered the doctors and the nurses.
They wanted to keep me for as long as possible to have as much evidence as possible that I was stabilized.
But I pushed. My daughter had been without us for too long.
“What do I need to do?”
They told me to be patient.
“Okay, I’ll be patient. What can I do to prepare for the move while I’m being patient?”
“Keep listening to your music and focusing on staying calm.”
“Okay, I’m calm, now what?”
They laughed gently at my persistence. They were getting to know me – the me that was not unconscious and confused with such dangerously high blood pressure.
They were getting to know the me that wasn’t terrified that making a sudden move was going to spike my blood pressure and cause a stroke or a seizure.
They were getting to know the me who was a mom.
The me whose heart had already been broken open, who had experienced the miracle of being lit up with the kind of joy that nothing can ever take away.
The me who experienced the miracle of having my daughter perfectly safe, unharmed, in my belly while I experienced life-threatening health failures.
The me who pumped golden colostrum from my ICU gurney and the me who tried to breast feed my daughter from a wheelchair.
These specialists recognized my tenacity and gave me a shot. One told me that I could be moved on day five if I could walk.
Oh ya, shit, I haven’t tried that yet, I likely said out loud. My legs aren’t broken. I can make it work.
I agreed. He sent a physio nurse up with a walker. She showed me how to use it, and with my husband, helped me out of the gurney into a semi standing position in front of this wheeled support.
She showed me how to hold it. How to move my legs and use my arms to support my weight.
I gripped that thing and she held me up until I was ready. She let go, I took two steps, and then I fell onto my face. Having forgotten, I guess, to protect myself with my arms.
I felt like I had never walked before. My legs had become dead weights. My core had been cut open and stitched together less than a week before.
I couldn’t wrap my mind around where to pull strength from.
But I found a way. I can’t tell you my exact thoughts, but they were all focused singularly on getting to my daughter. On making sure she could be with her family. On doing what I could to make up for the fact that she had been without us for the first five days of her life.
I don’t know how small an ICU room is, but I know it’s not big.
I took five steps, maybe six, and just as I was about to reach the end of the room, I fell.
The physio nurse helped me up. She encouraged me. She, now, had seen the fight in me. She knew I would make this work.
By pure determination, I got back up and I turned around with help, and then I walked another six or seven steps across the room.
I was ready to collapse at the end, but I did not fall.
They helped me into a wheelchair and my husband pushed me to see our daughter.
I told her that we’d be together soon. I knew it was true.
Later that afternoon, as I rested in the gurney, I begged the doctors to let me go.
And they said yes!
When all the paperwork had been done, I was wheeled to a maternity ward room and my husband and I waited for the nurses to bring our daughter to us.
I got into bed. When our daughter was brought into the room, the regular maternity nurses showed us what other parents would have learned on the first day.
And then I got to hold her. Finally. Without IV cords and blood pressure cuffs.
My catheter had just been removed, my legs were heavy, my stomach muscles hurt, but I held her in my arms for hours without letting her go.
That day was the best day in my life.
Family members came in to visit and watched me hold her. I was not ready to let go. They had all had a chance to snuggle with her when I was fighting for my life. They understood. It was a time of pure joy.
It was a time of miracles. Of all of us getting through that hell. Nothing was lost. We were going to be the family that we had planned.
What happened over the next three years shocked the hell out of me.
And it’s been eight years of preparation for something that I cannot even imagine.