I thought I wouldn’t mind going early…until it actually happened (the worst day of my life)

Imagine: I am almost 36 weeks pregnant. My ankles and feet are so swollen, I can barely look at shoes, let alone get them on. I feel horrible. I have gestational diabetes. I am depressed. I’m just not ‘me’. I keep thinking, ‘please let me go early…please let me go early…please let me go early.’

My baby girl, Mia, was born on May 10, 2014, after 35 weeks and 6 days of a miserable pregnancy.

The Worst Day of My Life

And that wish eventually led to what was absolutely one of the worst days of my life: going home without my baby.

I cried the entire way home from the hospital. When I got home, I could not sit still. I could not rest and recover from my C-section. I had to move. Despite pleas from my husband, Jeff, and my Mom, I had to keep my mind busy. I absolutely had to reorganize my kitchen. What else was I going to do? That dream of ‘going in as 2; coming home as 3’ was dashed. I felt so alone in this empty house. I had no idea, until 72 hours earlier, that being born before 37 weeks—as late as 35 weeks, 6 days—could be risky for my daughter. And I keep thinking, ‘Why me? Why me? Why me?’

The Rest of My Story

Mia was my second pregnancy. My first pregnancy miscarried at 9 weeks. So I was really excited to be pregnant again—excited and nervous. Excited about expanding my family and having a person that is part of me and my husband. Nervous, because I didn’t want to miscarry again. Nervous, because being pregnant, I wouldn’t feel like myself. And having a baby would change me; as a woman and working professional, everything would be different.

The day my water broke, Jeff was in Las Vegas at a bachelor party. I called every single guy at that bachelor party to track Jeff down & get him home for Mia’s birth. Not a single one of them picked up. I guess what happens in Vegas means you can’t answer your cell phone… Jeff had asked the doctor before he went on this bachelor party weekend what the chance was that I would go into labor and deliver while he was away. ‘98% sure she won’t, so you are good to go away for a few days,’ said the doctor with a wink and a smile. Luckily, my Mom had returned to Philadelphia from Florida, ‘just in case’, and she was there to keep me company and hold my hand while I had my baby.

The doctor who delivered Mia said that because she was born before 37 weeks she was ‘preterm’, so she had to go to the NICU. They brought her to my room within 24 hours, so we thought everything was okay. Then 2 days later in the middle of the night–just 12 hours before we are ‘going home as 3’—a nurse and doctor rushed into our room and told us that Mia had to stay in the NICU. Jeff was with me, as I wouldn’t let him leave me alone in the hospital after he missed Mia’s birth. While doing the Car Seat Test, Mia’s O2 saturation dropped to a dangerous level. She had to stay in NICU to be stabilized.

I had no idea before that moment that being born early, even a little early, could be so dangerous to my baby.

Why don’t we talk about premature birth?

Why don’t we talk about this? No one talks about it, unless they know it happened to you.

Even doctors don’t talk about it, I suppose because they don’t want Moms like me to feel guilty that our babies came early.

I don’t feel guilty. I feel lucky. Lucky to have had Mia in a great healthcare system, with great NICU care (shout out to Briana Singh at Virtua for taking care of Mia and ME for those 10 days!). If this had happened 20 or 30 years ago, Mia might not have made it. I feel lucky that my tears and the misery of being without my baby at home was isolated to that timeframe. I feel lucky that the ramifications of being born early were short term–isolated to those first few weeks of her life. Now she is a healthy, energetic baby, hitting or exceeding all milestones.

And I want other women to feel lucky. To understand that the discomfort definitely outweighs the distress of going home without your baby. It definitely outweighs the loneliness and the long days spent at NICU, to be near her, to hold her.

Or maybe we don’t talk about it because doctors don’t want us to be scared. If I had known that I was at risk, I wouldn’t have been scared; I just would have done things differently:

  • I wouldn’t have let Jeff leave my side at that point in my pregnancy. Sorry, no Vegas guys’ weekend!
  • I would have insisted that my Mom be in Philadelphia for emotional support—not ‘just in case’.
  • I would have asked my doctor what we can do to get my pregnancy a little further along before delivering. Just a week further along would have made a big difference.

And there is something I do differently now. When I hear a friend say ‘I wouldn’t mind going a little early’, I tell her ‘No you don’t want to go early’ and the reasons why. Because I don’t want anyone to go home without her baby.

Women need to know that ‘going early, even a little early’, is not good for their baby. Or for them.

Are you at risk for a premature birth? Knowing can make a difference on how you handle your situation.

Besides being Mom to Mia, age 18 months, Leigh is a Creative Director & Designer at Rubin Creative. She is also a member of the PreTRM Patient Advisory Board.

Photo is of Leigh in the NICU the day Mia left the hospital.