Tuesday, March 22, 2011

The baby formerly known as Flicker

Kilian was born on March 3 at a healthy 6 pounds and 10 ounces. He measured 20.5 inches in length. He seems like a miracle to me.

Not only did he miraculously fatten up to the size of a full-term baby despite being born five weeks early, but I feel that I ordered him to be born finally that night. That was the thought, at least, that I hurled through my head every couple minutes as I listened to his heart rate drop alarmingly low with each contraction. Slow and slower, it went till it seemed like his heart that typically beat 130 to 160 times a minute would only pump every second or two. I didn’t remember a heart rate that slow during the births of my other two children. I didn’t remember doctors pumping water back into my uterus to help cushion contractions for my other two children. I didn’t know if that should have been concerning or not, medically. But it was to me. And I just remember thinking, as his heart rate dropped more and more, ‘You must be born. You must be born now.’

And then he was.

Not that I knew it till the doctor informed me that he was crowning – my extremities were so pumped with the epidural that I was paralyzed for hours after he was born – because that is the way I like to roll at birth… on drugs and happy.

In fact, once Kilian decided to listen to me and just be born, the birth was remarkably easy. I might have tried to push once. But I was so relieved to hear he was coming that I laughed at the smallest, slightly humorous thing the doctors said and out Kilian came. In the end, the doctors joked that I giggled him out.

Kilian never visited the NICU and only spent one night in the warming, incubator-like baby bed before the nursery let him venture a stay to warm on my chest instead.

This method of warming preemies is called kangaroo care. It was developed by doctors in Columbia who did not have adequate resources to care for all premature babies born in their hospitals. Apparently a mother’s body will act like an incubator when a newborn is placed on it – warming as they need warmth and cooling as they get too hot. The warming allows the babies to rest faster, conserve energy for feeding and helps them regulate their breathing and heart rate.

This care has been my homework for the last couple of weeks, which will explain why I’ve answered almost no one’s emails. After getting the bigger kids to bed every night, I strap Kilian into this baby wrap and kick back. Not only does it put Kilian to sleep, but it nearly puts me in a sleep coma as well with barely enough energy to watch some tv. As a result, I’ve seen lots of parts of tv shows in the last few weeks but rarely whole episodes at a time.

(BTW I did enjoy reading everyone's comments on Facebook. Thank you for all your kind words and support. I will get to emails soon).

Kilian is a good little sleeper so far – too good, in fact. I think if we had let him, he might have slept himself to starvation. But between waking him up every two hours to eat and gulping down his aunt’s breastmilk (and her sister-in-law’s), Kilian got back up close to his birth weight last week.

I think the breast milk helped him a lot. Kilian seemed to digest it faster and wake up wanting to eat faster. On top of the very generous donations from family, we were very grateful to receive close to 300 ounces of the frozen liquid from the Mothers’ Milk Bank of Ohio. I feel like our freezer is full of liquid gold. Thank you to everyone who is helping with that.

It has been a happy couple of weeks. Up until a few days ago when I started chemo again, I considered myself on vacation from cancer. With Kilian born, I felt like my body finally recovered from that last dose of chemo back on January 24. Steve took some time off. We took the Naomi and Henry to just about every kid-oriented museum in the area to celebrate their new little brother.

I can’t wait to take the permanent vacation from this journey. Just another four or five months to go.

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Conversations with the Sleep-Deprived

It’s 7am, and I can hear Henry talking with Steve. “I want Mommy.” I feel like I have not just shadows under my eyes but canyons. Tears start running down my cheeks. At 7am, I have logged in exactly one and a half hours of sleep for the night. I don’t know what prevents me from sleeping. My body is dying for slumber. Is it the toll of chemotherapy? Being 8 months pregnant? The breathing issues? The light-headedness? Or is it the restless leg syndrome and the joint pain?

I get up to go to the bathroom for probably the 15th time this night and think maybe I should just go sit near Henry on a couch somewhere… since I’m not sleeping anyway. His two-year-old voice is so cute. But then Henry will start asking me for juice or a sword or who knows what and I’ll have about zero energy to get it. I stagger toward the bathroom, grasping to the walls and counters for balance, the question pops in mind again. How can I be so exhausted and not fall asleep?

I feel like every cell in my body answers that question: The baby needs to come out. An image of this sliding chart dangles in my mind that shows me getting weaker as Kilian gets stronger. Then the familiar chain of thoughts race through my head. It’s like my body has put on this doctor jacket and is briefing me while pointing to the sliding chart with a wooden-pointer.

The baby needs to come out.
I’m not sure how much longer I can take this.
Delivering Kilian will take care of most of these problems.

I know, I say to myself. I try to lay down one more time and fall asleep till 9:30am. When I get up, the kids are already gone at Steve’s aunt’s house. I try to find anyone’s experience online of going through cancer treatment during their third trimester. Is this normal? I wonder. The only brief stories I can find are on the Hope for Two Web site – a web site devoted to pregnant women with cancer. The stories are short. One woman had her 13th child full-term, an 8-lb baby. But she didn’t start therapy as early on in her pregnancy as I did. Another woman says she delivered her baby 5 weeks early, and he spent 16 days in the NICU. She doesn’t say why.

Yesterday I picked Thursday morning with my OB-gyn to be induced. That date will make Kilian 35 weeks old when he is born. Will he stay in the NICU for two weeks too?

I hope he won’t. I feel bad that he won’t get to nurse. The chemo will stay in my system for months after I finish so it’s out of the question. I’ve never really liked breast-feeding. But the babies seem so content when they’re eating, like they still need that attachment they got for the previous nine-months, that I do anyway.

I don’t like the idea of Kilian in the NICU. I keep thinking, he doesn’t get to nurse and now he gets to spend the first two weeks of his life in a glass box?

But then Dr. Body points back at the sliding chart – the one where I get weaker as Kilian gets stronger. Kilian is looking pretty strong on his curb chart. Then he starts to thump around in my stomach, making it visibly move. Last week, the ultrasound technician at Hopkins pegged him at 5lbs and 14 oz already. If he continued to grow that fast this last week, he’ll be well past 6 pounds by Thursday – even while being born 5 weeks early.

My mind clothed in the doctor jacket is back again. It points one more time to the chart and puts down the wooden-stick, like it’s finishing this long lecture. I think Kilian is strong enough, it says.

I hope so, I add. I need to stop talking to myself. People will think I'm crazy.