It was a relatively warm fall night when my water broke. I was exactly 33 weeks pregnant, so although it was exciting, it was more of a "holy shit what's happening" kind of terrified excitement. I left the house at 1 am with a friend who drove me to the hospital because I didn't want Ryan to leave the other kids with someone they didn't totally know (and none of our trusted possibilities were awake at the time.)
I left for the hospital in a pair of maternity sweat pants and a t-shirt. I packed one change of clothes and my kindle and a phone charger. I forgot to pack pajamas. The next day, when it was clear that our goal was at least a week of bed rest, Ryan came with a care package of toiletries and clothes for the long(ish) wait. In the bag was my perfectly comfy owl pjs.
Day after day I waited. I only sat up to eat, and only got out of bed to shower or pee. Amniotic fluid dropped out of me like a leaky faucet, and I drank gallons of water each day to help my body replace it. I knit 2 sweaters and 3 hats for the tiny baby that was most likely to arrive within the week. I watched movies and tried to read. I saw my older children for an hour a day if I was lucky and spent the rest of my time rotating through what felt like an endless list of friends and well wishers.
My only job had been to keep her safe, to grow her until it was time and my body had decided to kick her out 7 week early. She was going to be small but not tiny. Her chances of survival were great and chances of being completely healthy were good.
From the outside I was all laughter and funny stories and jokes about bad hospital food. I just kept knitting. It was a way to calm my brain and find a lifeline in the chaos that I had absolutely no control over. Not a single person ever questioned my emotional state. Of course I shed tears, and talked about how anxious I was, but I was adept at maintaining the status quo. Everyone thought I was fine.
We were just over 24 hours from 34 weeks when it became clear that she needed to come out. She wasn't responding on the non stress tests, my blood pressure, which is normally ridiculously low, started creeping up. And then my temperature also started to trend upward. The doctor on staff that night made the decision that she would be born at 33+6 because even waiting one more day was too much of a risk at this point.
She was born via cesarean section, my third. It was a gentle, family centered (as much as one can be with a preemie and the NICU team waiting in the wings) surgery that I survived (emotionally) by the skin of my teeth. I didn't stop shaking violently until, in an act of pure brilliance and grace, she was placed on my chest in the resuscitation room. Instead of whisking her off to the NICU, they waited until I could meet her. I was the first person to hold her, and that moment changed and healed so many wounds within me. (But that is not the story I am telling today.)
Once she was settled in her suite in the NICU, and I was out of recovery, I was wheeled into her room and she had a chance to nurse. She latched on and suckled like a champ, which was amazing for a 4lb7oz little babe. And then she was placed in a warmer and I went back to my room to pump and sleep.
For the next several days as I recovered from major abdominal surgery my life revolved around pumping and attempting to nurse and eating and sleeping. Every single drop of colostrum and milk was collected and delivered to her and she was fed by a nasogastric tube. After 3 nights I moved from recovery to the NICU and there I stayed for almost 3 more weeks.
Life revolved around eating and sleeping and nursing and pumping. My best friend Celeste brought me a new pair of fleece pajamas so that I could rotate out my beloved owls. They were a gorgeous deep maroon with tiny cream and red polka dots on them and even postpartum they fit like a glove. Every few days I sent a bag of ditty laundry home and Ryan brought back some clean yoga pants and nursing tanks and clean pajamas.
I was one of very few mamas who never left my baby's side. Most mamas would go home to sleep but I couldn't fathom it. While I was there I watched more than one baby be rushed in with shouts and trauma. I heard more than one code and crash. And sadly I watched more than one family leave with empty arms. No, I couldn't go home to sleep. Nope.
Due to my diligence of not leaving her, or my steady stream of family and friends bringing food and well wishes or maybe because I laughed and sounded like I was ok, no one ever questioned my emotional state. I just looked like I was fine. And I was, in many ways. Every morning I would put her to breast and then pump and shower and put my pajamas in the drawer and go down to the cafe to eat. And then every 3 hours I would again breast, pump, rest until 11 pm when I would don my pjs and brush my teeth and hope I could doze off for a few before the 2 am pumping session.
It was truly the longest shortest time of my life. Every day felt like an eternity, and yet we were only in that room for 19 days.
When we came home, I thought I was fine. I left home shortly after Halloween and returned on December 1st. I dove headfirst into trying to make a magical Christmas and having to do all the things and attend all the events and still I was breast, pump, rest every time she cued that she was hungry. She was finally done with bottles at 37+2 but I kept pumping around the clock. I had over supply but my brain started telling me that if I didn't pump my supply would tank and then where would we be, and besides there were other babies that needed milk!
I kept pumping for 5 months, donating over 1200 oz to at least a dozen babies. And little by little my brain was slipping away from me. As the ounces stacked up, my anxiety was rising. I had moments of complete and total panic every day, sometimes more than 8-10x a day and my anxiety was at a constant 8/10. CONSTANTLY. I had uncontrollable rage over the most inane things. I would tell at everyone and everything. And I couldn't sleep. I was so very tired, but my brain wouldn't let me sleep. And besides, I had to pump. I would sit in the dark in my maroon pajamas pumping one last time before bed and would pump 4-5x during each day. I was making enough milk for 1.5 babies,even though I only HAD to feed my one.
Finally after one particularly harrowing night where I heard myself yelling about something completely ridiculous, I realized with some grief and relief, that I had postpartum anxiety. It might've taken me 3.5 months to realize it, but as soon as I acknowledged it, my next call was to my doctor and then my therapist. Within a week (after trying many non pharmaceutical options) I went on medication and I slept again.
It's been just over a year since that day and I've since switched medications and then over the past 2 months have slowly weaned off of it. Little by little, with therapy and both pharmaceutical and non pharma support, my brain has come back to me. I can cry again (which I really couldn't for a long time) and I don't feel the rising panic or the uncontrollable rage. My baby is strong and thriving and she's my greatest joy. I feel like I've come out of a dark cave, into a glorious light and it's absolutely amazing.
Last night I put on my maroon pajamas, and *just like that* they don't fit. All of a sudden they are just a little too small like I've somehow grown a tiny bit each day and didn't notice it until I put them on last night.
I've never been so happy to place a piece of clothing in the donation pile. Because none of it fits anymore, the maroon pajamas have done their job through my long winter of postpartum anxiety, spring is here and it's time for something new and glorious and you betcha it's going to be beautiful.