It happened a week after Sarge and I left Korea in ’95. We were in Labor and Delivery at Martin Army Hospital in Columbus, Georgia for what was supposed to be a routine prenatal checkup.
A week prior, I was in 121 Hospital in Yongsan, hooked up to a machine; 32 weeks pregnant, 18 years old, and with severe preeclampsia. It started in my 25th week, so it was considered “early onset” (even badder worse) and I was supposed to have been on strict bedrest. Try putting an 18-year-old girl who can’t even remember to take the pill on strict bedrest. It’s just laughable.
It was the end of Sarge’s tour. Time to go home. And my doctor had a decision to make. Let me fly or keep me in the ROK. She weighed the options.
At 18 years old, there really wasn’t much she could say to impress upon me how sick I actually was. I was still invincible back then. What she didn’t tell me, however, was that even at that moment, I was dying. My 32-week baby was the size of a 26 weeker. And according to the machine, he was not happy about it. My liver and kidneys were shutting down. My body was rejecting him as though he were an invader, a virus.
Little did my body know how right it was. That little shit is a freak of nature, lemme tell ya.
Making an 18-hour flight carried the same amount of risk as staying. There was no level 3 NICU in the ROK at the time. And the doctor was adamant that no matter what happened, I had already long passed the point of spontaneously “getting better.” Regardless of how it happened, something bad was gonna happen, she was sure of it. I would have to be flown to Japan. I probably wouldn’t make it. And if I had a seizure on a civilian airplane over the Pacific Ocean, I probably wouldn’t make it.
She decided to let me fly home.
But back to Labor and Delivery. Columbus, Georgia. July 7, 1995. I remember quite a bit from that day. I remember the numbers 180/120. My blood pressure. After the nurses finally convinced themselves that three blood pressure machines in a row could not be broken. I remember being rushed into an exam room, stripped, laid on a hard table, and having a catheter shoved in my pee hole.
Things get fuzzy there. My memory then jumps to a hospital room, after I was admitted. Every time I peed, they had to check it for protein. Protein in your pee is bad. I had a lot of it. To be specific, I had “4+ proteinuria.” How I remember that, I have no idea.
The chest pain was unreal. I remember that, too. But worse than that was the doctor.
I was terrified. I was in pain. I wanted Sarge to lay in the bed with me. Dr. ShitForBrains proceeded to shake his no-no finger and state in no uncertain terms that it was against hospital policy for Sarge to do that. He also got about 3 inches from my face (As I cry and beg him to make the chest pain stop) and said, “If you don’t knock it off, you’re going to kill yourself and your baby.”
I remember those words as though they were branded on my brain.
I understand that eclampsia is such a rare complication of pregnancy that an obstetrician could go his entire career without ever having encountered it, but ignorance does not make one an ASSHOLE. This cat was a ASSHOLE.
What I did not realize at the time, and only found out years later, was that chest pain is a symptom of HELLP syndrome, which is a variant of preclampsia, and closely precedes an eclamptic seizure. Of course, 18-year-old me had no way of knowing this. Dr. ShitForBrains, however, had no excuse.
(Yes, I keep a voodoo doll of Dr. ShitForBrains in my underwear drawer and frequently stick pins in his dick.)
I don’t remember much of anything after that. But from what I have been told by trusted sources, I had a seizure. No doctors or nurses were in the room when it started. The story is quite fuzzy, but I think it included a lot of hollering, some mag sulfate, and Dr. ShitForBrains watching his career circle the drain along with my soul.
I woke up a couple days later. In a different hospital. A nurse was scribbling on a clipboard in a corner of the room. After I got my bearings, I lifted the blanket and saw that my pregnant belly was gone. I asked her where my baby went.
We named him Christopher Jacob. He was born on July 8, 1995, seven weeks early. He weighed 2 lbs 13 ounces and was 14-1/2 inches long. I couldn’t see him yet, but the nurse brought me a Polaroid picture of what amounted to a fetus in a glass box with an IV in its forehead. Thankfully, I was still a blissfully ignorant little girl and high as a kite from the meds being pumped into the few veins I had left (the insides of both my arms were black at this point). All I saw was a beautiful, perfect, wondrous, LIVING baby boy.
I was really high. I don’t think that can be overstated. Everything was beautiful that day. I’m pretty sure I told everyone who walked in the room that they were beautiful. And when the doctor tried to make me follow his pen light, I crossed one eye and followed the light with my other one. It’s this freaky little trick I can do and I figured, what better time to do it than when a doctor is trying to make sure I didn’t have a stroke?
The most amazing thing, though, was that Sir Fetus was 100% healthy. Aside from being ridiculously tiny, there wasn’t a goddamn thing wrong with him. I brought him home 5 weeks later. He still only weighed 4-1/2 pounds, but he was so healthy that the hospital had no other reason to keep him.
Cheers to boob milk, which I pumped round the clock. I insisted it be the only thing that ever went inside his belly the whole time he was in the hospital, even when it had to go through a tube in his nose. I even put a big sign on his incubator that said “NO FORMULA.”
Do you know how strange it is to sit in a NICU for hours at a time marveling over your perfectly healthy China doll while there are babies all around you coding one after another? Many of them whose mothers I never saw. Ever. Surreal is the best way to describe it. Sad. And surreal.
Yet, to add to the utter conundrum that is me, I was still completely incapable of taking responsibility for my own fertility and 9 months later, there was an Andrew in my belly.
Thankfully, Andrew didn’t try to kill me. But thanks to boob meth milk, I spent the first year of his life seriously considering leaving his titty-fed, screaming little ass on someone’s doorstep.
Beside the point.
The point is that Sir Fetus turns 18 years old today. The baby in the box is a man now. There is no tube in his nose or IV in his forehead, though there is a purple hoop in his lip. His hand used to fit inside a quarter. Now he is twice my size.
I’ve been a terrible mother, but somehow he wound up twice as smart as me, twice as talented, half as cynical though twice as aware, and has already accomplished more in his 18 years than some men do in an entire lifetime.