My preemie hit the 5-pound milestone last weekend. While most parents would still cringe at that, remembering their own babies’ birth weights of six, seven, or even eight or nine pounds, Jon and I are just thrilled. Five pounds! Jax is getting to be a fattie!
And when you reflect on and acknowledge all that these preterm babies have to go through to reach that milestone, it’s — and I don’t just throw this word around — miraculous.
Back on October 29, when I woke up in the middle of the night to have my vitals taken yet again, the magnesium drip to delay preterm labor wreaking havoc on my respiratory system, I couldn’t imagine giving birth less than seven hours later. I couldn’t even fathom a baby surviving at a gestational age of 25 weeks and five days.
A while later, writhing in the midst of intense contractions, I still couldn’t fathom it. I said to Jon’s bloodless face, “They’ll just up the magnesium, it’ll be fine.”
“You already can barely breathe,” he said, looking more worried than I’ve ever seen him.
Twenty minutes later, when I began to feel pressure … I can’t even really say how it was, emotionally. Jon rushed out to grab the doctors and I began to slide into complete despair. This baby was coming. NOW. The chipper OB G-YN who’d just come on duty, and therefore had no idea how close I was, popped into the room. She took one look at me and called for more nurses to help prep me for an emergency Caesarean.
The C-section never happened. I wasn’t pregnant anymore by the time I made it to the operating room. Doctors swarmed me, and then I don’t know what happened for a few minutes. I didn’t black out. I just went somewhere else. I went to a very dark and horrible place, where I’d lost my baby, because I couldn’t hear him crying.
Dr. Jonathan Liss, founder of the NICU at York Hospital, jolted me back. He grabbed my face, shook it to make me look at him, and said, very firmly, “Your baby is not going to die.”
That’s it. Not, “We’re going to do everything we can.”
Granted, he didn’t say, “Here’s your pink, fat, healthy baby boy!” and place Jax in my arms, either.
Dr. Liss knows. He knows how good he is, and how good York’s NICU and his staff are; he also knows that preemies are warriors.
I came back from that dark place, of course, and a few hours later, we met Jax. Of course he looked fragile and impossibly small. Of course, we loved him right away.
There’s a nice symmetry in there somewhere, about how I started my day unable to breathe and ended it by watching Jax’s chest rise and almost collapse, then rise again. I couldn’t see symmetry at the time.
I look at pictures of those early days now and wonder how we weren’t more shocked by his appearance. Other people were. They hid it well, but not that well. Jax was never sick (just small), but in hindsight, he looked sick. But at the time, something about Jax glowed that photos couldn’t capture.
I’m slipping deep into sentimentality here. The point of all this, of recounting my traumatic birth experience and waxing poetic about Jax being out-of-the-gate adorable is that the spirit of a person born way too soon is so incredibly strong that it emanates. I believed that when I heard and saw absolute certainty from Dr. Liss. Jax wasn’t being kept alive against that spirit, by machines and technology and medical skill.
Without spirit, those machines might as well not even power on.
You’d think these little babies would be coddled and shielded, tucked away in their heated bubble-beds until they’re strong. Nope. They’re already strong.
The first time Jax had a bradycardia while Jon and I were there, we gasped at how “hard” the nurse patted his head to “bring him back.”
“They’re stronger than they look,” she said.
Time and again, that’s proven true. I had to remember that when I watched Jax gag when a nurse reinserted his feeding tube, or cry while having blood drawn from his heel, or when he only looked like he was crying, but couldn’t actually make sounds because his ventilator tube inhibited his vocal cords.
Just leave him alone, let him sleep! I can’t say how many times I wanted to scream that in the beginning.
Now, I’ve stopped asking them how Jax can handle so much in a day. His team has put him through a rigorous introduction to being alive. Three months before he was supposed to, Jax is breathing, eating, digesting, pumping blood, building muscle and more. All his systems are pushed to the limits every day, and his responses indicate what he can and can’t take, what he is and isn’t ready for.
That’s why Jax is thriving.
“We ask them to do a lot, long before they’re ready to,” one doctor explained, “because they have to step up or risk disease and stunted development.”
We are not always ready for what’s coming, but we can handle it. Because we have to. I didn’t know that for sure until I had Jax.
The biggest lessons sometimes come in the tiniest bodies. And the tiniest bodies sometimes have the biggest, strongest spirits.