For the last four years, I’ve been convinced that motherhood has been trying to kill me. Not like in the haha funny kind of kill me in one of those memes where the mom has had a rotten day and all of her kids are acting out, but I mean ACTUALLY KILL ME.
We found out in April 2015 we were pregnant right before going on a delayed honeymoon. I was shocked because honestly we were not trying that hard and I didn’t expect to conceive so quickly. The pregnancy progressed well until 31 weeks when I went into labor and delivery for less fetal movement where they noticed my blood pressure was high. From that point on in the pregnancy I became a high risk pregnancy patient followed by maternal fetal medicine. I was induced because of preeclampsia at 36+5 and gave birth to a screaming baby boy at exactly 37 weeks pregnant on December 2nd, 2015. Labor was intense! But I had never felt more powerful than I did walking to the bathroom in a jonny after giving birth, I felt like wonder woman! At first he appeared fine, but shortly after a nurse noticed he had labored breathing. They brought our son, Jonathan Jr., to the NICU where he ended up staying for 15 days.
For 15 days we saw our boy fight for every breath, fight for every feed, fight to come home. It was hard, emotional and scary. Meanwhile, I was battling blood pressure issues while he was in the NICU.
But, we did it. After 15 days, he came home. We went straight to the cardiologist for a check- up per NICU orders and then went home to be a family. The next 10 months were not easy. He was a tough baby. I quit my teaching job to stay home full time because that is what our family needed. We saw a ton of specialists for different issues including – laryngomalacia (an air way defect), reflux (silent and regular), a milk protein allergy, and a heart abnormality. He had surgery for a double hernia repair at only three months old and later in the year, tubes put in for chronic ear infections… you get the idea. It was a lot to take in, emotionally and physically my body was a mess. I was the highest weight I had ever been and I was totally consumed by taking care of this tiny person that needed me more than he probably ever would.
Life finally got easier when our son turned 10 months old and at that time I decided it was time to put my health first and it was also time to heal from the trauma of NICU life. There were many points where I thought Jr. wasn’t going to make it. Seeing your baby hooked up to tubes and needing breathing support puts into perspective just how fragile life is.
By December 2016 I was on a mission to get my weight and mind under control. We wanted to have another baby and I didn’t want to bring trauma into another pregnancy. I also didn’t want my trauma to affect my parenting in a negative way. It is no surprise that to this day I still have trouble being away from my kids. Separation anxiety is something I am working on and probably always will be.
My goal was to give the next pregnancy the best outcome possible. I learned how to be a fighter by watching our son fight for his life, I felt inspired by his strength and resilience. I didn’t want to give up on my dream of having a big family because of fear. Fear that I’d get preeclampsia, fear that I’d have another NICU experience.
I did what any mom on a mission does. I became my own detective. I asked myself hard questions like – Why did I get preeclampsia? Was my son in the NICU because of my preeclampsia? What kind of medical provider is going to be most helpful to me next time? More importantly, I wanted answers to those questions and I was determined to get those answers. I researched a high risk OBGYN who was an expert on preeclampsia for a preconception appointment, I downloaded the ACOG guidelines on preeclampsia and read through the entire thing, I joined facebook groups and used social media to connect with other moms who also had preeclampsia so that I could understand what the hell had happened to us. While doing this, I fell in love with exercise and eating healthy. I never considered myself athletic or fit, but now I did. And just as we were gearing up to try again, I found myself a lovely therapist who specialized in helping women overcome birth and trauma related to motherhood (her name is Mary and I adore her). I read positive books like Feel the Fear and Do It Anyway by Susan Jeffers. I found a medical team that I trusted. I was READY to take on whatever a second pregnancy looked like for me. Yes, I was still scared of dying and death to either me or my baby because of the deadly situation we had been in, but I no longer felt like I couldn’t overcome those fears with the tools that I put in my toolbox.
August 2017 we started trying for baby #2 and with each NO I got on home pregnancy tests, the more I wanted that second child in my arms. We found out about our second baby in April 2018. We were overjoyed to be expecting that second baby that we worked for. The pregnancy was so different. I was incredibly sick and low energy all the time. We found out that we would be expecting another sweet baby boy and had no trouble naming him, Jeremiah James. His name was sacred to me, full of meaning and just perfect in every way. I never got that second trimester relief, I just kept on feeling sick and tired. I held my breath with each blood pressure check, but luckily had no issues with blood pressure in that pregnancy. Everything was fine until my water broke October 5th, 2018. At 29 weeks +5 days gestation. We quickly called my dr. and went to L&D, they confirmed it was amniotic fluid. I would be having another NICU baby. We were both at risk for infection as I stayed in patient for two weeks until he was born on October 21, 2018 at 31 weeks +4 days after the most beautiful 28 hr. all natural vaginal birth. Jeremiah James weighed 4lbs 1 oz (large for his gestational age), scored a perfect score on his apgar test, and had a full head of brown hair. I immediately fell into the deepest love I had ever felt. The NICU was ready for him and his incubator was exactly where his big brother’s was. We would repeat our experience, except this time our baby was healthy and premature. Everything was progressing fine. He was looking like a feeder and a grower with no medical issues. We felt comfortable and at home in the NICU. We were excited to watch the tubes come off of him, to watch him grow and eventually when he was ready, come home with us.
I’d like to tell you that this is where the story ends. That there is a happy ending, that I overcame it all. But I didn’t. In the same spot that we took our eldest home in, I held our second son as he took his last breath on October 25th 2018. We spent 5 days together on earth until he unexpectedly passed away in my arms in the blink of an eye. My worst fears had come true. I had fought for this child with every fiber of my being and still it wasn’t enough to keep him. His death shook our world, turned it upside down and made me reevaluate all I had ever known about myself and the world. How could this have happened when everything was going so well? What happens now?
We found out that he had caught an infection called klebsiella pneumoniae. The superbug overtook his body and he went sepsis. It’s funny how survival instincts and mothering instincts kick in when you need them most. There are two things I said after Jeremiah died that are still true today. After he died I said, “I am going to get up tomorrow. I’m going to live. Jr. deserves a mom, Jon deserves a wife.” and I also told my parents, “I’m just going to include him in everything we do. Chirstmas cards, everything.” Somehow through the shock I had said these two things and those truths have seen me through this grief. I do those things every day. I say Jeremiah’s name every day, we talk about him, we include him. Maybe not in the way I wanted or pictured, but in a way that keeps his memory alive. To the world Jeremiah is dead, but to me and our family, he is very much alive. He is in everything I do or don’t do. He is in the clouds when I’m at the park with his big brother. He is in every orange monarch butterfly I see. He is in my new tattoos. He is me and I am him, love is more powerful than death.
So here I am, the dream uncompleted. Empty arms and a broken heart, starting over again. Trying to heal and find myself within the tragedy. Trying to make something good come out of something so awful.
I thought motherhood was trying to kill me, and maybe in some ways it has, but it has in many ways created a survivor within me. I am a different version of myself as I put together the broken pieces. Gluing them and rearranging them. I would not be who I am today or know what I know about my body today if it wasn’t for my two boys. The ones who have taught me how to truly live and how to be alive.
We are trying for a rainbow baby, a baby born after loss. Unfortunately we have had two miscarriages this year. But we haven’t given up hope on Jeremiah’s legacy or on expanding our family. We are just beginning to visualize what we want life to look like a few years from now. A foundation in Jeremiah’s honor and a little brother or sister. These things we are working on, the foundation and his sibling(s), they wouldn’t be here if he didn’t live and if he didn’t die. Because of him we will build a community of bereaved parents to connect with and because of him someone else will be here with us someday. I am so grateful for his life and I am so grateful for what my boys have taught me. In many ways, our story as a family is just beginning.