What better time to write this, than at five in the morning, with my beautiful boy sleeping on my chest?

Truth be told, I’ve been putting off writing Everett’s birth story because it was honestly just so traumatic. But it’s something I want to remember and document, it’s something I want to share with other women who had less than ideal births.

If you planned to have a certain type of birth and weren’t able to or if you have any negative feelings surrounding your birth – that’s okay. Your feelings matter. You matter. I’m tired of the “You have a healthy baby, that’s all that matters” rhetoric. Our feelings are valid and shouldn’t be discounted because we are now mothers. Your feelings surrounding your birth are valid.

Buckle up, this is a long one.

At the end of my twenty-second week, my husband and I headed to a restaurant up the street from our house to meet some friends for dinner. As soon as we arrived, I felt liquid dripping down my leg. I was so confused. I rushed to the bathroom, more and more liquid coming out as I walked. And then it dawned on me: my water just broke.

My heart sank.

My mind was going a mile a minute. What was happening? How could this be happening?

I tried to clean up, headed back to the table and told my husband we needed to go to the hospital and walked outside. He came rushing after me.

“My water just broke.”

I saw his face drop. I’ve never seen deep sadness spread across his face like it did that day.

“No.” He said. He sounded so upset and confused. “It’s too early.”

I called my midwives, who told me to go straight to the hospital.

I  was admitted and within an hour I had numerous doctors doting on me – checking my cervix, giving me ultrasounds, checking my amniotic fluid levels. They told me there was a good chance I’d go into labor that night. It was terrifying.

They had a neonatologist come talk to me about the statistics of having a baby so early. They explained that if the baby survived, his chances of having a normal life without brain, lung or eye damage was slim. He explained that the outcomes, in general, were not good. He explained that I could choose to have the baby resuscitated and do everything in their power to keep him alive, or I could choose otherwise. I chose the former, but I do not judge any woman who chooses a different path than I did. Scott and I made some of the most difficult decisions of our lives that night.

We were scared, we were confused, we were heartbroken.

It’s a horrible situation to be in and no woman should be judged for the difficult decisions she has to make at that moment. The risk to the baby and to mom are very high.

The neonatologist explained that if I did go into labor, the best chance of survival for the baby was something called a classical c-section; a procedure in which the uterus is cut vertically instead of horizontally. With regular c-sections, women can go on to have vaginal births. With regular c-sections, the recovery time is a lot less. Wanting the best for my baby, I consented to a classical c-section. I told him to do everything he could to keep my baby alive.

And we waited.

I waited to go into labor.

I got a magnesium drip, which made me vomit well into the night. In addition, I was given steroid shots. I couldn’t sleep. It was too scary. I told Scott to try to sleep on the little sofa in the room. I knew that if I went into labor, I’d need his help and I’d need him to be somewhat rested at least.

By morning I hadn’t gone into labor. This is when they explained to me that I’d be transferred to their anti-partum unit and I would be living at the hospital for the next ten weeks, at which point I would be induced.

I could barely wrap my mind around what happened the night before, and now I was told I had to live at the hospital for over two months. How could I be separated from my husband, my friends, my home for that long? What would life be like if I couldn’t get out of bed, exercise, even walk around for ten weeks? How could I not cook for myself? I couldn’t eat unhealthy hospital food. I needed nourishment for a healthy pregnancy. No healthy food, no baby shower, no happy pregnancy. No natural birth. I would be on bed rest and living in the hospital for ten weeks.

And so I was transferred. And so I sat.

Waiting in bed. Praying I didn’t go into labor.

I came to terms with being on bedrest for the duration of my pregnancy. At least I didn’t go into labor, I told myself. At least this baby has a chance. I could make it work.

Scott went back to work the following Monday (my water broke on a Thursday). I was scared and bored and uncomfortable without him. He spent every single night in that hospital with me – crammed on a chair that pulled out into a bed – if you can even call it that. In the morning, he’d go to the Whole Foods across the street so I didn’t have to eat hospital food. He’d come back every evening after work and bring me dinner. We’d watch a movie, and I’d try to sleep while nurses came in to check my temperature and blood pressure every other hour. How many times did they draw blood? I lost count when it got into the teens.

More than anything,

I prayed and prayed that I wouldn’t go into labor.

I agonized over it. It was terrifying. Just waiting to see what would happen. And then Wednesday morning, I woke up and saw blood mixed in with the amniotic fluid that had been dripping out of me for the past week. I felt that something was off.

The nurses and a couple doctors came in, more blood draws, more cervical checks. I wasn’t dilated, but they hooked me up to a contraction monitor just to be safe.

And then they started.

At first, I wasn’t sure what I was feeling. I’d never been in labor before. Everyone told me contractions felt like the worst period cramps of your life. But these didn’t feel that way. The best way I can describe it is that it felt like an intense urge to poop coupled with an opening from the inside. It felt like my body was opening up.

I was in denial. Even though my contractions were showing up on the monitor, and they weren’t small, I wouldn’t believe it. I refused. This can’t be labor, I told myself. After one particularly intense contraction, the doctor rushed in, “Are you okay? You felt that right?” Sort of, it wasn’t that bad, I lied.

They decided I was just dehydrated and that was causing the contractions, so they hooked me up to a bag of fluids. When they saw a twenty-minute break in the contractions, they decided I was fine. Scott headed to Whole Foods to pick us up some lunch.

Five or ten minutes after he left, I felt what I couldn’t even try to deny was a contraction.

It felt like my body had completely opened but from the inside. I couldn’t speak. I gripped the side of my bed and opened my mouth to moan, but nothing came out. It lasted for what felt like a minute and was the strangest sensation.

I called my nurse to tell her and she said, “I’m going to lunch. You probably just have to poop. Try to go to the bathroom.”

Being completely clueless, I hobbled to the toilet and sat down.

That’s when I felt Everett.

Which took over as the new strangest feeling I’d ever felt.

I fell over onto my hands and knees. Of course, this happened when everyone left. I crawled to the bed to find the phone to call the nurse back, but it was wrapped up in the sheets and I couldn’t stand. So I waited. I waited on all fours, moaning and screaming for someone to come help me, but no one could hear me. The room I was in was in a corner, tucked away.

Scott came in a few minutes later, saw me on all fours and I screamed at him to find a doctor. Two residents rushed in and did a cervical check.

“She’s crowning. We need to get her to the OR now.”

I’m twenty-four weeks, I thought. My baby is twenty-four weeks. Twenty-three and six, if you account for my long period. I was oddly calm.

They got me onto the bed and literally ran me to the OR.

They brought me into a room with what seemed like twenty people (it’s a teaching hospital).

“Danielle, your baby is coming now. We are going to put you under. Say goodbye to your husband, he can’t come with.”

Scott kissed me and we said I love you. The next thing I knew, I was in a bright white room with a huge light shining over my abdomen.

Everyone was rushing around trying to get me prepped for surgery. I had a catheter inserted, which was very painful. I had something draped on my abdomen and the doctors were pushing on it. “We’re trying to find where the baby is.”

“He’s in my vagina!”

They put an oxygen mask on me, which made it harder to breathe.

“I’m really scared. Will someone hold my hand?”

I’m not sure if she was a nurse or doctor but I think her name was Lindsey and she told me that it was going to be okay, she told me they were going to take care of me and do the best for my baby. I love that woman.

There were so many people rushing around and yelling.

I couldn’t believe what was happening. I truly think I was in shock.

A new face emerged above me. “Danielle, I’m the neonatologist. I have to tell you that due to the prematurity of your baby, he might die.”

I felt tears streaming down the sides of my face. And then everything went black.

I came to know that neonatologist well, and she came to love my baby.

Scott was holding my hand when I woke up. I was freezing and my legs were shaking violently. I later found out this was due to hormones.

“How’s my baby?”

“He’s so blonde!”

I laugh when I think about that. It was a moment of levity in a dark situation.

The doctor went on to tell me that he was alive and in the NICU.

It felt so strange. My mind was clear but due to the pain meds, I couldn’t articulate what I was thinking. They made me nauseous as well. But the worst was the violent shaking of my lower extremities. One of the nurses, Lisa Marie, came and did some acupressure on me. And if I didn’t believe in acupressure before, that would’ve changed my mind instantly. It was so soothing and felt so amazing to have some healing hands on me. It was the only thing that helped the shaking.

One of my nurses, Claire, brought me flowers and congratulated me. I can’t tell you how nice it was to be congratulated. So many people said, “I’m sorry.” When they found out I gave birth so early – and this really pissed me off. Yes, the situation was precarious, but I still brought a beautiful baby into the world. It was still a celebratory event.

I was taken to the post-partum unit and told to press a button attached to a drip anytime I needed pain medication.

Except I really hated the way it made me feel, so I didn’t press the button. When the nurse came around the next morning, she said: “Oh wow, you really haven’t been using it.”

I felt like I’d been hit by a bus. It felt like being gutted emotionally and physically. I was given the classical c-section, but once they opened me up, the doctor saw that I had a large fibroid, so she cut it out. Then once she cut my uterus vertically, she realized the baby wasn’t there. He was too far down, so he came out vaginally anyway.

Yes, I had a c-section AND  vaginal birth. What can I say? I’ve always been a multitasker.

That night I was still in shock. I felt so strange. I just wanted to sleep. See my baby wasn’t even an option. I couldn’t move.

In the middle of the night, a nurse came in I hadn’t seen before. She wasn’t my nurse.

“Are you Everett’s mom?” She asked.

And it really dawned on me. I’m Everett’s mom. My baby boy is here. I’m a mother.

Her name was Mary and she took pictures of Everett to give me since I couldn’t go see him. This was the first time I saw my baby and I’m forever grateful to Mary, who I got to know in the NICU.

I woke up crying a lot that night. It broke my heart that I couldn’t be there with my baby. “Is he lonely? Are the nurses cuddling him? He’s all alone.” I cried hysterically to Scott. It really, truly broke my heart and filled me with sadness I’d never known. I couldn’t be with my baby. It felt so wrong.

The next morning was when I actually had to get out of bed.

I hadn’t been using the pain meds and this was the most painful moment of my life physically (keep in mind that a few weeks prior to this ordeal, an OB tried to manually flip my incarcerated uterus with no anesthesia). My body couldn’t stand up straight without causing me pain. I could barely move. Breathing was incredibly painful. The nurse just wanted me to walk to the bathroom, and I had to pee anyway (they removed that damn catheter). My lungs felt bruised like someone had been punching me in the chest and back repeatedly.

After this, Scott got me in a wheelchair and wheeled me down to the NICU. I saw my beautiful, blond boy the day after I gave birth to him. I put on sterile gloves, and I touched him through an opening in his isolette. And I cried.

I was so terrified. Another neonatologist, another doctor I’d come to know so well and truly enjoy, came to talk to Scott and I. He told us that if he made it the first three days, that was good for his overall survival rate. The doctor told us that if he made it the first week, his overall survival rate jumped significantly. He explained all of the common problems seen and worried about in infants with extreme prematurity.

So we waited.

The two of us waited for the first three days to be over. We waited for the first week. We waited for his brain ultrasounds to come back, which came back just fine.

The doctors and nurses, those amazing nurses, told us to read to him, that he recognized our voices. I couldn’t do it. Reading to my baby through an isolette was just too heart wrenching for me. So I watched Scott do it. And I cried more. We couldn’t hold our baby. The two of us could barely touch him. We had to read and talk to him through a thick, plastic barrier. So I watched Scott read to him and I cried. I cried a lot. Everyone in that damn NICU has seen me cry, and most have seen me hysterically crying.

Everett just kept trucking. He kept growing and getting stronger.

We did have quite a few setbacks. He went back and forth between being intubated, being on NIPPV and being on CPAP. Everett had several serious scares, including a fungal infection scare and all the symptoms of a fungal infection, but none of the cultures ever grew anything. He extubated himself at one point, and I watched in horror as my son’s vitals plummeted while every nurse and doctor rushed to his side. I was too scared to even cry. The pain and terror were too much. It was physical. I paced and talked to myself like a lunatic because I was one. I wasn’t in a good place at that moment, fearing the worst for my son.

The familiar feeling of being too terrified to cry came back when Everett got an actual infection and went from mostly breathing on his own to being intubated overnight. We were called and told to come in at 2 am, a call no NICU parent wants to get. We waited once again, to see if he would overcome that infection. I waited with sick fear, primal, gut-wrenching fear, as the doctors told us it was 50/50. But he overcame it. His resilience and strength were astounding.

Everett is brave, he is strong, he is healthy, he is resilient.

I’ve told him this literally every day.

After more than four months in the NICU, 131 days, we brought our son home. The happiest day of my life. I can’t express how lucky we are. There are so many things that could have and did go wrong, but so many things premature infants have to deal with, and our son is perfect. His exit MRI was normal, his lungs are fine, his eyes are fine. He is a perfectly healthy baby and we are the luckiest, most blessed parents in the world. We really are. This isn’t lost on us.

I didn’t get the birth I wanted.

I had planned for and had every confidence I’d have a natural birth. And now I’ll never have one and that upsets me and that’s okay, but on the other hand I recognize just how lucky we are.

Our son came barreling into this world on August 10th. There is nothing this kid can’t overcome. He can achieve anything. He can move mountains. I can’t wait to see what this amazing boy does with his life.