Fifteen years ago, I was pretty ordinary. I was 28 years old, had a mid-level job and had been married for 2 years and change. I was pregnant with my first child and expected to have a baby sometime in mid-May 2006. If you would have told me that the next day, I'd be so sick that I had to have an emergency c-section, I would have told you to get out of town.
I was just an ordinary woman, getting ready to do the most ordinary of things, have a baby.
Then, the next day, everything changed. I woke up with distorted vision in my right eye. It seems like there was a lens over my eye that I couldn't wipe away. I was swollen--but I had been for 2 weeks. The swelling would go up as the day went on and then the swelling, at least in my feet, would go away. I had trouble sleeping--but I assumed it was because the baby was making me uncomfortable.
After all, I was carrying around another person.
The vision issue, of course, was strange, but I had my 30 week appointment scheduled that evening. I was really only 29 weeks 5 days; but I had to go in early because I had a work trip planned later in the month. I called to see if I could come in sooner--they said sure. I never mentioned that I couldn't see or that I suddenly gained so much weight that I appeared obese, instead of pregnant. It all seemed perfectly normal. Plus, I had some deadlines--copy to write for a brochure about refractive error blindness in eastern Africa.
The weather that day was just like today--unseasonably warm. I went to lunch with Mike at Baja Fresh--eating a burrito with as much hot sauce as possible. We went to my doctor's appointment at 4pm. I remember it seemed like an annoying formality--I had stuff to do at home.
Then everything went from ordinary to: "Go home, pack a bag, you are going to have a baby by the end of week."
I had protein in my urine. I had gained 35 lbs in 2 weeks. My blood pressure was higher than the last visit; but still normal.
I had preeclampsia. I sobbed the entire ride home. I remember saying over and over again: "I don't want to die."
At the hospital, we settled in. I had a roommate and she was watching a medical drama, which my husband demanded be turned off. They drew labs. They took my blood pressure: it was 200/150, 185/100, 219/150--none of the numbers good. My labs were rushed and whatever they showed, prompted a call from my doctor. He would be there in a couple hours, because I had to deliver my baby that night.
We hadn't even told anyone that my baby was a girl. I hadn't even decorated her nursery. And I never went on my tour of the hospital.
All those ordinary things were just lost to me.
Lily was born that night at 10:24pm. She weighed 2lbs 14 ounces. I got to see her for 3 seconds before they took her away to the NICU. In those few seconds, I remember saying over and over again, "I don't want her to die."
In that moment--a switch was flipped--from my life to hers. Sure, I wanted to live to be her mother; but if bargains had to be made, my life could be the price.
I think sometimes being a mother feels like such an ordinary thing. After all, we all have mothers. Mothers are everywhere. Mothers are common. But there is nothing ordinary about the moment you stop living for your own breath and you start living for theirs.
I wouldn't see Lily for another 24 hours. I was so sick--my kidneys, my liver and my blood pressure were all over the place and I was still at risk of seizing.
Mike recorded her breath on the video camera we took on our honeymoon. I watched her tiny chest rise and fall--propelled by the ventilator she was on. A day later, Lily would need more support--an oscillator. But then as quickly as she took steps backward, she progressed forward to c-pap, nasal cannula and eventually, nothing. We spent 7 weeks in the NICU with Lily. And then, she did what is ordinary for Lily:
She left the battleground, with a smile.