Chapter One – Hospital
The car stopped in front of the hospital’s main entrance. I stared out the window. The revolving door stood motionless, waiting for a push. When I looked at Lee, his mouth was smiling, but his eyes were not. I leaned into him, and he rested his lips on my forehead. Tucker’s tiny hiking boots swung back and forth, banging against the back of my seat. A uniformed man tapped his pen against the glass and motioned for us to move. As I pushed the car door open, I could barely move my arms. The man held my elbow, and I turned back to gaze at the car. “Wave to Mommy,” Lee said. I watched the station wagon move off in search of a parking space.
The admissions procedure was unusually prompt. I sat in the empty waiting room, knowing that tomorrow all these seats would be bursting with ripe-bellied women waiting for their scheduled Monday morning appointments. My hand stroked my recently-popped middle. A startling pain in my lower back reminded me why I was there. With no one at the desk, I wondered how anyone behind the closed double doors would know I was waiting.
My gaze fell on the coffee table in front of me. A beautiful, bright-eyed baby smiled at me from the glossy cover of a parenting magazine. I imagined her name—something with Rose in the middle, maybe Hannah Rose or Ashley Rose, or perhaps Mackenzie Rose. We stared at each other. She seemed to want to say something. Her pouty lips and arched eyebrows appeared concerned. Still rubbing my belly, I whispered down to her, “Is my baby okay?”
Her brilliant blue eyes continued to stare silently at me, and I suddenly knew my baby was not okay. I let out a quiet sound, somewhere between a gasp and a sob, and then a nurse called my name.
A young Asian doctor held her clipboard close and dutifully recorded my answers about previous pregnancies.
“One,” I answered. “Born on his due date at eight pounds.”
She leaned against the counter and scribbled. Her shiny hair fell like a black cape over her shoulders.
I explained the few instances of bleeding I’d had earlier in the pregnancy. She nodded but didn’t write these down.
“Where is your pain on a scale of 1-10?” she asked.
“Good.” Her pen made a scratching noise across the paper. I had a sudden desire to knock the clipboard out of her hands. “Well your pain doesn’t seem that bad,” she said, dropping the clipboard on the counter and pushing up her sleeves. “I’ll just do an exam before you go.”
She’d just begun the exam when Lee walked in with two-year-old Tucker in his arms. My hospital gown was pulled up to my stomach and the doctor’s head was between my legs. I smiled at them. Lee leaned back against the wall and offered me a wink. I was about to introduce him to the doctor, when she let out a gasp. “Oh my God,” she said, “you’re three centimeters dilated.”
I’m not sure who called them, but a bunch of nurses were suddenly in the room, scrambling around me. “What does this mean?” I asked. The nurse next to me was tearing apart the Velcro of a blood pressure cuff. “It means you’re not going home until this baby is born.”
“But it’s November,” I told her. “My baby isn’t due until March.” It was like I had a lead weight on my chest. I couldn’t get a full breath. “I can’t stay here until March.” The nurse’s hair was in tight curls that looked like rollers. “We’ve just got to stop this labor,” she said patting my shoulder.
They lifted me from the exam table onto a gurney. Two nurses raised my legs into the air and held them there. I saw a large needle coming towards my back end and felt a sting and something cool spreading under my skin.
The nurse put the needle in a red container marked “Contaminated”. Lee shifted Tucker to his other arm. “A steroid,” she said. “To help develop the baby’s lungs.”
The hot prick of an IV went into my right arm. Tucker started screaming. But when I reached for him, the nurse set my arm back on the bed. Her hand was cold. “Dad’s got him,” she said. Lee squeezed Tucker closer. “It’s gonna be alright, babe,” he said, backing out of the room, keeping his eyes on mine. “It’s gonna be alright.”
Still holding my legs in the air, several nurses took hold of the metal bars and wheeled me out the door, past Lee and Tucker, down the tight hallway. I heard Tucker’s shrill voice, “What’s happening, Daddy? What’s happening to Mommy?”
When I tried to sit up, the nurse on my right pushed me down and kept her hand firmly on my chest.
“I can’t stay here.” I lifted my head. “I can’t stay here until March.” I pictured myself lying in a hospital bed for the next four months, stacks of discarded magazines at my side, a wall-mounted television airing nothing but soaps, and Tucker at home, dressed in his Spiderman pajamas, carrying his snuggly blue blanket from room to room, looking for his Mama.
The bed was moving fast. “Who will take care of Tucker?” My question echoed off of the hallway walls.
“He’ll be okay,” a nurse answered.
The hallway grew dark like a cave. Dim overhead lights cast strange shadows across the nurses’ faces.
“Why is this happening?” I asked. “What did I do?” My voice sounded far away.
“You didn’t do anything.” The nurse on my right held my hand without looking at me. “This isn’t your fault.” Their shoes squeaked as they jogged alongside me.
“I know I did something.” The nurses exchanged a look. My body started shaking. I was so cold. “I never should have played paddle tennis.”
“It’s nothing you did,” several nurses said at once.
If I could figure out why this was happening, I could make it stop. I searched for clues, chronicling the past week’s activities and ingestions. The bath I took Saturday must have been too hot. I ate sushi. Just vegetables, but maybe it was the ginger. “I put ginger on some sushi.” They gripped my ankles tighter. I could see their hands on my legs, but realized I couldn’t feel them.
Finally, I clutched a nurse’s arm. She was walking backwards, facing me, guiding the gurney down the hall. I dug my fingers into her flesh. I needed to know she was real. She looked at me. Her eyes, framed in dark circles, softened. I thought I’d found my sympathetic audience. “You don’t understand,” I said to her in a more coherent, controlled voice. “This sort of thing doesn’t happen to me.”
She held my gaze for a moment, and I waited. A gold cross swung at the base of her neck.
She continued to look at me. And then she said, “It does now.”
It’s truly an honor to have this book out in the world and hear back from so many amazing people that have been touched by this story. If you’re one of them, please let me know at firstname.lastname@example.org
Much love to you all,
Some of the lovely things readers have said about Preemie…
“My favorite book of 2014”
“This book…was like a preemie Bible for me.”
“It was my induction into motherhood.”
“This book saved my life.”