I had the opportunity to assistant direct our school musical every year that I taught. Last year, our students performed Seussical Jr., and since our last name is Norton they made many jokes about the our baby being named Horton. It was cute. Because of my pregnancy being a complete disaster for lack of a better way to phrase it, I stepped down from that role early on in the school year, but I still went to rehearsals when I could just to see the kids being awesome. In the first act, there is a song that begins with the title of this post. I will think of this song and those sweet theatre kiddos on Evan’s birthday probably for the rest of my life. My favorite line from that musical (which is also probably the most famous) is “a person’s a person no matter how small.” How fitting for our little nugget of joy.
On May 14, I went in for my weekly blood pressure check and labs to check for preeclampsia. So far I had made it by on the diagnosis of gestational hypertension. They took my blood, and I went on my merry way not expecting to see or talk to them until my non-stress test later in the week. I still had so much I needed to do in order to be ready for Evan’s arrival. The number one thing on my list that day was to finally go back to the school and clear my personal items out of my classroom (with help, don’t worry). When I got everything packed up into my car, I noticed I had a missed call from the hospital. They didn’t leave a message, so I figured if it was something weird about my labs, they would call me back. I more or less just shrugged it off. I had been feeling crummier than usual lately but I was also 34 weeks pregnant, so feeling crummy seemed normal to me.
Around 5:30 the on call OB called again and I answered. She said, “so your labs came back, and we’re going to need you to come hang out with us at the hospital at least overnight.” She then explained that my labs not only showed that I had developed preeclampsia but that I was developing something called HELLP syndrome as well because of it. Basically, my platelet counts were dropping and my liver function was dwindling because of my hypertension. She said that if my labs stabilized and didn’t seem any worse, I would likely go home the following morning, but I needed to be monitored that night. I was kind of dumbstruck. I was so sure that I wouldn’t develop preeclampsia and now I had it and something else on top of it. I dumbly asked her, “so I mean, should I like bring our hospital bag for like having a baby?” (Yes, I definitely said like that many times.) She said, “Yes, you should. Worst case scenario is you leave the hospital not pregnant anymore.” In other words, “hey so I know you were really just concerned with getting your classroom cleared out today, but you actually might have a baby instead.” WHAT!? I calmly said, “okay,” and she explained the process of getting admitted once I got to the hospital. We said, “see you soon” and I hung up.
Then….I said some choice words. My friends, Holly and Ross, were with me so they can vouch for that. I said a lot of choice words unbecoming of a new mother, but I mean she just told me I have a life threatening condition and my already abnormally teeny tiny baby with unknown medical issues was about to be born over five weeks early. You’d have some choice words too! I called Alex, and I think I was calm about the situation on the phone. Honestly, I don’t remember all that well. I know I started it with, “Hey so you can’t run rescue tonight, we have to go to the hospital.” Wow. Way too casual and vague. We met back at the house and finished putting last minute things into our hospital bags and headed out.
When I got admitted, the nurse asked me about contractions and I casually (why am I always overly nonchalant?) told her I had been having them for four weeks, but that I wasn’t having a baby that night. They hooked me up to all the monitors, started an IV, and drew blood for more lab work. Since I was there for my blood pressure, I got to get it taken every 15 minutes for the first couple hours we were there, and then they spaced it out to every hour through the night. Since I might have been having a baby that night, I wasn’t allowed to eat dinner. (Woo! Not.) Around 11 or maybe midnight, they told me I could eat something since my labs didn’t look any worse. That was the best tasting crappy hospital cafeteria cheesesteak sub I have ever eaten in my life.
From the intensity of the situation, I started having stronger contractions than I had been having, so I was so uncomfortable. Between that and the BP checks, I barely slept that whole night. I think Alex slept some, but honestly, I am not that sure. When we “woke up” that morning the dining services people brought in a breakfast tray for me since I wasn’t on restrictions anymore. Our day nurse came in and said that from the report she got that night it looked like we would be able to go home and remain on bed rest getting monitored more frequently. About 30 minutes later, the OB comes in and tells me that she discussed my labs and BP with the high risk maternal-fetal doctors, and everyone agreed that it would be safest to deliver Evan that day.
My internal monologue in that moment: “Ummm…what? Sure. Okay. Cool. Cool. Cool. No big deal. AHHH!”
“Mrs. Norton, when did you last eat?” Ugh. “Umm about 30 minutes ago.” That darn french toast! It wasn’t even good! And now because of it, I had to wait until 3:30 that afternoon to have my baby! I had to just sit there and stress over all the possible scenarios and how everything could play out. Good. My blood pressure isn’t already sky high, let’s just let me stew in my own angst for seven hours. Let’s add stroking out to that list of possibilities.
Evan was breech. Always breech. Folded up like a little taco. I knew we would be doing a C-section, but they checked with an ultrasound just to be sure. She said that Evan would be taken up to the NICU when he was born, but that Alex could go with him. We already knew that was where he would be going. That was one thing we felt ready for.
They told me how the day would go and then said “sit tight and try to relax.” RELAX? Are you crazy? So crazy freak out mode went into overdrive and I sent Alex back to the house because I needed more things including Evan’s swaddle blanket with his name on it. I still laugh at how crazy I was over that blanket, like somehow having it would make everything okay. I knew he would be going into an isolette or radiant warmer with no clothes, but he needed his name blanket. I am the one who needed that blanket. It was a symbol of plans gone right and hope for me. If he had his name blanket, he would be okay. He would live. He would eventually get wrapped in it and be fine. Pregnant logic is the most ridiculous thing in the world– ask any partner of a pregnant woman.
3:30 came…and went. There was another pre-term delivery happening and the OB was stuck until that one was over. So we waited an extra 45 minutes, which felt like 45 days if you ask me. Nerves really started kicking in the closer and closer we got to go time. Alex prayed over me and Evan, and that’s when I finally let myself cry. I told him how I was scared, and I didn’t think I could do it. I’m not even sure to this day what all I meant by “it.” Having major surgery? Being a mom? Having a sick baby? Who knows?
They finally took me back, got me prepped, and let Alex come into the OR. By the way, my blood pressure was 180/111 when they started prepping me. That’s considered a “hypertensive crisis,” so I guess it was a good thing we were about to have this baby. If you don’t know, the only way to “cure” preeclampsia or HELLP syndrome is to end the pregnancy. Evan had to be born that day or we would have been in some trouble.
One second they started and all of a sudden Evan was out. I will never get over how fast it seemed to be. I watched them hand him off to the neonatal team. He was gray. Like not the normal “oh the baby is covered in goo” kind of gray. The “oh shoot, somebody needs to do something quick” kind of gray. I craned my neck to see them working on him. I couldn’t see what he looked like at all. Just a gray fleshy blob. They called out his APGAR score: 1. (It’s out of 10 if you don’t know.) He was only taking random spontaneous breaths. His heart rate was too low; his oxygen saturation was too low; he was gray and not moving. The nurse asked Alex what his name was and when Alex said it, all of a sudden, Evan’s vitals started to come up a bit. He knew his daddy’s voice.
They were able to stabilize him enough to get his weight. That’s when I saw his sweet tiny beautiful little body for real. He didn’t look like a potato! (Let’s be honest…some babies look like potatoes.) He was so cute! And wait! He doesn’t look as disproportionate as we thought he’d be! The NICU team even questioned if they had the right baby when they saw him. He was 3 lbs 15.7 oz. I prayed for at least four pounds! We were so close. As one of our favorite pediatric residents says, we should have just rounded.
But then as quick as he came, he was gone. They wheeled him out, and Alex went with him. They stitched me back together and wheeled me to the recovery room where I just waited for Alex to come back and tell me Evan was okay. I have no sense of time, since I am pretty sure I was heavily medicated, but Alex came back to show me pictures of him and tell me how nice his nurse was (Hannah, we love you). I told him to just go back to Evan. I would be fine by myself. Evan needed him more than I did. They took me to my room, and all I could do was text Alex. I wasn’t allowed to go up to see my baby. C-sections are no joke so those out there who think it’s the “easy” way to have a baby–you are crazy. I was in so much pain despite the medications they had me on, and my blood pressure was still around 140/90.
Hours went by and Alex floated up and down the hospital floors as he divided his time between us until he finally crashed at about 1 in the morning. I still hadn’t been able to go up to see my baby. I guess I wasn’t considered stable enough with my BP and labs still out to check on my platelets and liver function. As soon as Alex woke up the next morning, he went up to check on Evan. The nurse told me I should be able to go see him, but the doctor had to sign off on it first. Finally, at 11AM the day after he was born, I got to go see him for real. It felt kind of anti-climactic when we got up to his carespace because they had just started doing his cranial and abdominal ultrasounds to make sure all of his organs were present and the correct sizes. So I just held his tiny hand and waited so I could spend at least one minute “alone” with my boy.
Almost every new mom will gush over that first moment she had with her baby. It was love at first sight. I couldn’t believe I was holding this perfect angel. Blah blah. And don’t get me wrong. I am for it. I love the new mom gooey, warm and fuzzy stuff. But I didn’t get to have that. Not even a little. I barely saw my boy when he was born. Then I had to wait 18 hours longer to see him again and touch just his little hand for the first time. All the while, I was hearing about him having seizures and desaturations. My baby was sick, and I couldn’t do a thing. It wasn’t until the next day that I would be able to hold him for the first time with the help and reassurance of his nurse (Amber, we love you). Holding my baby was rare and terrifying. I couldn’t even do it by myself. I had to have a nurse place him on me because there were so many tubes and wires, and he was just so tiny and floppy. In those first few days, it seemed like every time we held him his vitals would start dropping. If you got to have that moment with your child, relish it. Cherish it. Soak up every precious second of it.
Evan was born on a Tuesday. I got discharged from the hospital on Friday. Leaving the hospital that night was going to be horrible. I knew it. I was leaving WITHOUT my baby. We had prepared for this, I thought. But we barely made it 2 miles down the road before I started bawling my eyes out. I had told Alex I would wait until we got home to cry. Whoops.
Evan was small. He was getting his nutrition through his PICC line. He needed respiratory support. He was on anticonvulsants. He needed extensive testing to assess how to best care for him moving forward.
And I kept hearing that song in my head…”on the fifteenth of May, in the jungle of Nool…” The scene goes on “Horton, the elephant, heard a small noise…. he heard it again, just a very faint yelp, as if some tiny person was calling for help…” Then Horton sings, “…He’s alone in the universe. I’ll just have to save him, because, after all, a person’s a person no matter how small.”
My person was small. He needed help. But he wasn’t alone in the universe. His God went before him, stood with him, and walked behind him. When we couldn’t be there, His eternal Father was.
Evan’s name means “Yahweh (I AM) is gracious.” God’s grace came at us like a hurricane, and over the next 87 days that we spent in the NICU, we drowned in His all-consuming love.