Saturday, September 17, 2011


My first lesson as a new mom: expect the unexpected.

Austin James Draher arrived one day shy of 35 weeks on Monday, Aug. 29, 2011. He was born at 7:26 p.m. via c-section, and weighed 6 lbs, 9.8 oz. That's right. He was five weeks early, but still was a pretty big fella. If I had a nickel for every time I have wondered how big he would have been as a full term baby, I might have established his college fund by now.

The story leading up to his arrival is a bit entertaining. I'm just going to get it out of the way now. Jim was right. There, I said it. I should also admit that I was being a bit stubborn that day, although I didn't want to be "that couple" that visits the ER 18 times before actually going into labor. So here's how it went down.

After our visit to the ER the day before with pre-term labor signs, I knew I couldn't travel too far from home in case my water would break (i.e., no more driving to Ashland for work). I was already planning to work from home starting the following week anyway, so this was no problem. The only "problem" was trying to figure out how I could complete the various projects I had pending at the office before the baby came (something I always said would happen sooner than the due date, but certainly not THIS soon). I tried to remain level-headed and just start plugging away, but in the back of my mind all I could think about was all that remained left to do.

The morning began with a staff meeting as usual. I called into the conference room phone and participated in the discussion like always, just through a speaker this time. A few emails came in from various colleagues who had heard I wasn't coming in, and I appreciated their well wishes and kind words. The rest of the a.m. hours were pretty uneventful (business as usual), although I found I couldn't quite get comfortable at our spare bedroom/office desk. I thought at the time this was because of Jim's oversized desk chair, and that my back just needed better support. So I switched chairs a few times, threw in some pillows, stood up, sat down, did a dance... you get the idea. Still couldn't get comfortable. I went to grab a bite for lunch from the kitchen before a 1 p.m. web projects meeting. That's when the fun really started.

Throughout the 2nd and 3rd trimesters, I had felt this pain on my lower right side--more like pressure really--but kept saying it was "pre-baby pain" that I didn't think was related to carrying the baby. Starting around the 1 p.m. meeting, this pain became stronger and was somewhat radiating. To appease my mom and husband--both of whom had been texting me throughout the day to check in--I started timing these pains. In my mind, there was no way these were contractions. They just weren't what I expected as contractions. Too low, on the side... surely I was losing my mind. Until they got worse.

Jim got home around 3:15 and found me in the living room on the phone during another meeting. I had moved my laptop to the living room for a change of scenery--surely this would cure my pain. HA! Cut to 10 minutes later when I'm hunched over the table and trying not to breathe heavily into the phone: Jim has grabbed our book from labor class and is pointing at the "First Stage of Labor Symptoms" page and whisper screaming "get off the phone--you are in labor!"

I let this go on for maybe another 10 minutes before I finally told my colleagues that I needed to call them back. Ironically, I didn't call back until 7:45 the next morning to let them know I was out of commission.

Jim forced me to call my step-sister Steph for advice, who definitely suggested I call the doctor's office. Later I learned that she called my mom immediately after talking to me and said something like,
"Jen is in labor!! You need to call her!! But don't tell her I called you because I was really calm with her on the phone and I don't want to freak her out." The doctor of course recommended we leave for the ER. I am in complete disbelief at this point. There was no way this was happening--no reason or logic to explain why this baby was coming. For sure, we would be sent home again.

We arrived at Aultman's ER around 4:30 to be monitored in the maternity triage area. The pain by now was definitely stronger. I was still timing what I now knew to be contractions, and they were anywhere from 3-5 minutes apart. The resident doctor who saw us the day before came back into the room to examine me before uttering the words I will never forget: "We're going to have a birthday today."

The first thing that crossed my mind was that Austin wasn't going to be a September baby like I thought. Already making a liar out of him Mom! Then I kept thinking "August... it's only August. This isn't possible." Shortly thereafter, a flurry of activity stormed the room. Jim did a great job of staying out of the way sitting in the corner texting as many family and friends as he could, while I sat on the bed to receive an IV, answer questions for anesthesia and sign paperwork (with a signature that was obviously overpowered by the pain and looked nothing like mine). By now our parents were on there way or already in the waiting room.

The doctor came in to explain what was going to happen in the operating room (remember, he was breech so we had to have a c-section). Because of my scoliosis back rods, they were going to try the spinal--similar to an epidural, but numbs your body and keeps you awake during the procedure. If this didn't work, they would have to put me completely under and Jim wouldn't be allowed in the room. This made me a bit nervous, but what choice did I have? I just wanted the baby to be safe.

By 6:30 we were rolling into the OR. A nurse took Jim to get his scrubs on while anesthesia spent 40 minutes trying to get the spinal to work. I was terrified to have these needles going into my back, but it was necessary. There were many times when I could feel them hit something they weren't supposed to hit. The pain was surprisingly minimal, other than a few shooting pains to the left or right. The contractions are still going on at this point, so between the two sensations I had enough to keep me busy. And frankly, the pain from my sciatic nerve when Austin moved the wrong way in my belly was more intense than the spinal pain. Eventually they gave up and decided to put me under via IV. I realized at this point I wouldn't get to see Jim in his scrubs. He loves the TV show "Scrubs" so I tried envisioning him as the actor Zach Braff wearing scrubs, walking around the hospital as if he were in his own made up episode of "Scrubs" just to take my mind off of the situation at hand.

The worst part of going under was the oxygen mask that I thought was going to suffocate me. I knew they were going to put a tube in my throat too, but at least I didn't have to see or feel it (until I woke up with a sore throat). It was a bit unnerving to think of the number of people that were in the room opposite the curtain that was covering my lower half. While I could hear and feel them getting ready for surgery, I couldn't see much at all. But all that really mattered was getting this baby out safe and sound. The meds soon hit my vein and I was out in a matter of seconds.

I woke up in recovery around 8:45 p.m., drowsy as ever. Vision was very blurry, but I could see the outlines of a nurse on one side and Jim on the other. He was excited, and surprisingly calm! Austin was perfectly fine, but taken to the NICU for observation. He had a smooshed nose, but that's what he gets for camping in my rib cage for all those months! Then Jim told me how much the baby weighed, and I made him say it again because surely my drugs had translated that into an extra few pounds. How was it possible for a baby five weeks early to weigh that much?

We finally rolled out of recovery and into our hospital room around 10:30 p.m. I got to see my mom, sister and step-dad along with Jim's parents before they went to grab a bite to eat. Jim went to the NICU so I could nap, but by 1 a.m. I was out of the drug haze and itching to see my baby! I almost couldn't make it because it was so painful to even get out of bed and stand up to get to the wheelchair. But it was beyond worth the pain to see Austin. I didn't realize at the time that we'd spend the next two weeks with him in that room, itching to leave.

My stay in the hospital ended Thursday, 9/1. I had probably eight or 10 different nurses, four or five resident doctors and a slew of other staff that cared for me or visited my room for one reason or another. By far the most entertaining interaction was with the male resident doctors who had a funny habit of visiting in the 5 a.m. hour to check my incision and then ask if I had thought about post-partum birth control. I wanted to say, "Dude, I don't even have a pediatrician picked out yet, so I couldn't care less about birth control right now!" And ironically the most painful part of the whole experience (aside from general sitting/standing pain from the incision) was getting the IV and other medical tape pulled off the skin. Honestly. It could have been much worse.

And the best part--unlike other medical procedures--I got to (eventually) go home with more than a scar. My little bundle of joy, once he learned how to eat in the NICU, arrived home Tuesday 9/13--which would have been my 37 week full-term date. The hardest part of the NICU experience, other than being a completely unexpected introduction into parenthood, was simply wrapping my head around why we were stuck there for a 6.5 lb baby that simply put, didn't know how to suck. When I think "NICU" I think breathing or developmental problems, incubators and small babies. We had none of those with Austin, except for the incubator for 24 hours to regulate his temperature. But every time I heard the docs say "it's completely normal for him to have an immature sucking pattern," I still couldn't wrap my head around it.

It was terribly frustrating, but it made complete sense that he just hadn't had the time to learn these things because he was early. He had a feeding tube in his nose that was taped to his face--and he ripped it off almost three times (we caught him the second time, and were able to get the nurse to fix it instead of having to reinstall it completely). It's the worst feeling in the world to have to watch them shove even the smallest of tubes in your week-old baby's nose and hearing him scream ... sigh. Fortunately, he was given two to three bottle attempts a day, and finally, as the nurses said it would, the light bulb turned on and he was only taking bottles.

Speaking of nurses, these women were amazing. At least two of them had even cared for Jim when he was a NICU baby at Aultman almost 27 years ago! These ladies were patient with us and all of our new parent questions, but best of all, they spent the time to help reassure us of the skills we needed to care for Austin on our own once we were home. Jim had never changed a diaper or given a baby a bottle, but with the direction of the NICU nurses, he left the hospital feeling more like a pro. And two of the doctors' kids had Jim in class, so by the time our stay was over we had made some really great connections with the NICU staff. I could not be more thankful for each and every one of them, and in fact I'm tearing up just thinking about them as I type. I'm forever grateful, but at the same time, I hope I never have to see them again!

The first couple days home have been relatively uneventful. Other than you know, feeding, burping, diapering, bathing, holding, etc., every 2.5 - 3 hours :) We did go to our first pediatrician visit Friday, where Austin made his presence known by peeing all over the scale (even hitting the wall, and nearly hitting the nurse!), and almost pooping on the table. And yes, he's already peed on our wall at home in his room, and leaked through his diaper onto Daddy, and my cousin Bob. Bob even texted me later to say he suggests we rename AJ "Pee J." Hilarious.

The last, but most important thing I want to say is THANK YOU to the many family, friends and neighbors who visited in the hospital or brought us dinner(s), snacks or coffee (yes, I'm still drinking decaf). Without you, we would have spent hundreds on romantic dinners in the Aultman cafeteria.
As much fun as that sounds, and as good as their coffee was, I cannot thank you enough.

The little guy went with Daddy to grandma and grandpa's tonight, so I'm going to go shower and nap. I never thought I'd love that combination as much as I do now. Until the next post... here's hoping we get some sleep!

Giving the "stink eye"

Austin and Mommy in the NICU