Standing at the Kitchen Sink: The surreal experience of having my baby 5 weeks early

My husband, Bob, and I were the “snack parents” for our weekly childbirth classes held every Wednesday night at 7 p.m. Bob wasn’t home from work yet and I was standing at the kitchen sink, washing off carrots and celery for a veggie tray for that night.

I felt something wet, like water, running down my leg, and I just knew. I thought to myself “my water just broke and I’m going to have our son, Luke, in the next 24 hours.” (For those reading who aren’t aware, once your water breaks, doctors will want to deliver your baby within 24 hours to reduce the risk of infection)

And then I started calculating…how early was he? He was going to be over a month premature. Would he be okay? Was I far enough along for him to live? What did I do wrong?

I called my husband who was already on his way home from work. There were no contractions but I knew we needed to go to the hospital as soon as he got home. So I packed my bag and he drove me to the hospital. I’m lucky that, at the time, we were living in Palo Alto, CA, and he was going to be born at Lucille Packard at Stanford. I knew we were in good hands but I was really, really scared.

I was 37 years old when I got pregnant. I had married when I was 33 and then attended business school a year later. We talked about having a family, but there were other things we wanted to do first. For me, it was to earn my MBA and get a couple of years under my belt in a new career. Bob was ready whenever I was and he never pushed. The only thing I knew was my biological clock was ticking. To me, that meant it may be more difficult to get pregnant. I never considered it would also put me at higher risk for having a preemie. I had had a cone biopsy a few years back after a not-so-good pap smear. Even though my doctor knew my medical history, we never discussed if having a compromised cervix caused by the cone biopsy could also have placed me at risk for delivering my baby early.

Delivering Prematurely

I went into labor later that night (after a lot of walking the halls of the hospital) and my son was born the next day weighing 5 pounds, 13 ounces. They took him to NICU for a couple of hours and then brought him to me to start nursing. We went home two days later, having experienced no problems while in the hospital. As a side note, during the two days I was in the hospital, my husband was out shopping for a car seat so we could actually take him home. This was a task that was on our to do list but thought we had plenty of time to take care of before his due date. Lesson learned!

From a weight and height perspective, he caught up pretty fast. However, he was diagnosed with cold-induced asthma when he was six months old and had many episodes throughout his childhood. We had many sleepless nights when he was little because of the round-the-clock breathing treatments he needed. And I can still remember listening to him cough throughout the night, that horrible dry cough before the treatments worked. I can hear him as I write this. Asthma does not run in my or Bob’s family so I speculate that it was caused by his underdeveloped lungs and bronchial system at his birth.

I wish I had the conversation with my doctor about premature birth risk

Although I got plenty of exercise while pregnant, ate healthy, and did all the prenatal things you’re supposed to do (vitamins, regular OB visits, test for gestational diabetes, amnio since I was over 35, etc.), I still look back and have guilt pangs that his early arrival was due to something I did or didn’t do. Even though I had a well-respected OB in one of the best medical institutions in the world, we never discussed premature birth, or that I had group risk factors that would place me at increased risk and there were things that I might have done to prolong my pregnancy. But maybe even having known my increased risk status in advance wouldn’t have changed anything. I’ll never know. My doctor may have thought if we talked about it, she would have freaked me out and caused me undue stress and anxiety. I wish she would have given me more credit for being able to have this conversation and handle the information in a way that was empowering versus paralyzing.

If a doctor could have spared me the feelings of helplessness, guilt and sadness when my water broke by informing me during my pregnancy that this might happen, I would have greater peace of mind knowing I had done everything in my power to take him to full-term.