I woke up that morning feeling off. At just shy of thirty-three weeks pregnant, I had started to slow down considerably. The thought of my hour-long commute to the office filled me with dread so I sent a quick email to my boss requesting to work from home. I did so without even having to lift my head off my pillow, marveling at the fact I could email my boss, check the weather, and update my online pregnancy journal from the comforts of my king-sized bed.
Still feeling lousy, I typed. Can’t pinpoint it. Normal third trimester aches? Back pain and SO MUCH PRESSURE. I think this baby wants out.
Stay put, Tiny Dancer. Daddy hasn’t even painted your nursery. Tiny Dancer gave me a swift kick. I affectionately rubbed my belly.
I rallied myself out of bed, inhaled two bowls of sugary cereal (a pregnancy craving I simply could not deny), and got to work. I had a 10 a.m. “touch base” meeting with my boss. We needed to establish a transition plan for my upcoming maternity leave. A natural procrastinator, I still had an overwhelming amount of work to finish before my last day.
My boss answered on the first ring and asked me how I was feeling. It was uncharacteristic of me not to go into the office.
“I feel great!” I lied.
“I’m so glad to hear it. Still planning on working right up until your due date?” I could hear the hope in her voice.
“Absolutely,” I said. “I’m going to work hard and wrap up all my projects in the next seven weeks. I want to leave you guys in good shape for my maternity leave.”
She sighed and her smile of relief was practically audible. “We really appreciate that.”
At that exact moment, I felt a huge, warm gush. I stood up and noticed that my pants were soaked and a small puddle was forming beneath me. At a complete loss about what to do, I hung up on my boss.
I speed dialed my husband’s work number.
“I think my water just broke.”
“Oh my God. OH MY GOD! I’m coming home. Call your doctor!”
I hung up. I didn’t call my doctor. I called my mom.
“Hey preggers!” She greeted cheerfully after seeing my number on her caller ID.
“I think my water just broke.”
“Stay calm. I’m leaving work. Call your doctor!”
I called my doctor.
The nurse who took my call told me to quickly pack an overnight bag and get a ride to the office. My midwife would be waiting for me when I arrived.
I frantically threw a pair of clean underwear, maternity yoga pants, a hooded sweatshirt, and my toothbrush into a duffle bag and waited for my husband. I didn’t pack a single thing for the baby because I didn’t have a single thing for the baby. Not a car seat, not a bassinet, not a stitch of clothing, not a diaper. The one and only thing I had purchased in preparation for the baby was an overpriced designer diaper bag. It was ironically empty.
It took all the self-constraint I could muster, but I had not found out the gender of Tiny Dancer. My baby shower was a few weeks away and I figured I would get all the essentials from my registry, plus a few gender-neutral outfits.
Like I said, natural procrastinator.
I slung my lightly packed bag over my shoulder just as I heard my husband’s car screech into the driveway.
He played the role of the calm-under-pressure husband but he was tugging at the hair behind his ears, an idiosyncratic habit he usually reserved for paying bills.
We spent the ten-minute car ride to the doctor’s office giving each other false reassurances but we both knew that it was go time. The steady contractions made denial difficult.
We were whisked into an exam room upon arrival. My midwife examined me in silence. My husband held my hand; I held my breath.
I couldn’t read the expression on her face. She usually smiled and made small talk during our appointments. I desperately wanted her to ask how our new home was coming along—her go-to conversation topic. Amid the chaos of expecting our first child, my husband and I decided it was the also the perfect time to purchase a fixer upper. The contents of our lives were haphazardly packed away in poorly labeled boxes. I had pulled my duffle bag out of an old electronics box with a piece of tape that read “Bags & belts & stuff.”
Finally, she spoke. “You’re in premature labor. I need you to go directly to the hospital. I’ll meet you in Labor and Delivery.”
I allowed myself to cry for the first time that day.
“Is the baby going to be okay?” I asked.
“The baby is going to be just fine.”
That became my mantra during the scariest and most chaotic experience of my life. The baby is going to be just fine, I told myself during a fast and furious labor and delivery. The baby is going to be just fine, I told myself as I was discharged from the hospital, forced to leave my baby behind in the NICU. The baby is going to be just fine, I told myself as I paced the house in the wee hours of the morning, trying to calm this tiny creature with the frighteningly loud cries. The baby is going to be just fine, I told myself through countless specialist doctors’ appointments. The baby is going to be just fine, I told myself as we survived every minor catastrophe from first diaper blowout to first tooth to first bump on the head.
My husband held my hand. I held my breath. We both held on to the belief that our baby would be just fine.
When I was pregnant, I fantasized about life after baby. My fantasy began with my ideal birthing experience. In it, my pregnancy went full-term and I delivered a chubby little cherub, a baby girl, with the aid of an epidural. I successfully breastfed during the day. My good little sleeper snoozed away for 12 hours a night while my husband and I hovered over the crib and stared at the tiny miracle we created – just like you see in the staged newborn photo shoots on Pinterest. Then the two of us spent the rest of the evening cuddled up on the couch, just like old times, and caught up on our favorite shows. Our days were filled with long, peaceful walks and lots of naps because I definitely, absolutely slept when the baby slept.
In reality, I begged for drugs during labor but ran out of time so I had a completely natural, and excruciating, childbirth. I delivered a teeny, tiny, red-faced baby boy. He didn’t have an ounce of fat on his body. He was too small to latch so my dreams of breastfeeding were replaced with the difficult decision to exclusively pump and bottle feed. My spunky little preemie insisted on eating every two hours, round the clock, 24 hours a day. I was so sleep-deprived during those first few months that I often Googled, “Can you die from lack of sleep?” The only quality time I spent with my husband consisted of eating Chinese take-out for dinner with Mickey Mouse Clubhouse blaring in the background. We used an unpacked cardboard box full of kitchen gadgets as a kitchen table. My days were a never-ending cycle of diaper changes, washing bottles and breast pump attachments, and incessantly making sure the baby was still breathing. I never slept when the baby slept.
I expected to be tired but I didn’t expect to be so tired that I felt it straight down to my bones. I now understand the phrase “bone tired” on a very intimate level. I expected my life to change in some ways but I didn’t expect it to change in all ways. I expected to fall in love with my baby but I didn’t expect that love to come out in a most protective, mama-bear form. Yes, that first love I felt was pure and deep but it was also primal and terrifying. It intensifies every single day, so much so that if I think about it too much—the weight of this love—I feel like it might crush me.
Most of the time, though, this incredible new love has the power to save me from myself. It saves me from a plight of planned perfection.
Motherhood has taught me that plans are futile, perfection is laughable, and procrastination isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Every morning I wait until the very last second to get out of bed with my snuggly toddler (who somehow ends up in my bed every single night). And while I lay there, breathing in his uniquely sweet scent of sweat and syrup and a hint of Play Doh, I can’t help but smile. And he can’t help but smile back.
Two years into this crazy journey and I’m happy to report—the baby is just fine. And so am I.
Guest post written by Kaysie Norman. Kaysie lives at the Jersey Shore with her husband, two-year-old son, and dog. She lives for summer and prefers being outdoors but if she's stuck inside, natural light and chocolate seem to help. Reading a good book in a steaming hot bubble bath is her guilty pleasure. She has a MA in creative writing, and her work has been published on popular motherhood sites including Pregnant Chicken and Scary Mommy.