February 20, 2012

Reflecting on Merritt's Birth-Day

Merritt turned one year old on Saturday. We celebrated with a sweet and colorful afternoon party that fit perfectly with Merritt's low-key personality and my need for a quiet anniversary.

I recall the ache of my sinking heart when, at 32 weeks 6 days, my water broke and I understood that Merritt was on his way. The juxtaposition of the onset of labor for each of my two boys is stark. What I welcomed with warm confidence and joy with Roscoe, I summoned will to push away with Merritt. Whether or not I was ready to give birth to him, and for reasons that we'll never know, our little Merritt boy needed to be born early and by the time I had realized it, the process was in full motion.

When I first shared Merritt's birth story there was more that I wanted to write.  At the time, I wasn't sure how my sadness and anger, and feelings of powerlessness fit in with the story of how I met my second, and perfect, little boy. There wasn't room for the raw grief that I felt. But, there has always been more to say, and the feelings I felt then have only intensified with time.

Probably because life has been so very full and a little crazy since Merritt arrived, it's been hard to find time to process any of it. I've needed to grieve for what was lost, on both our accounts, and yet I haven't made time for it. And so, as the new year came and then February arrived, a sad disappointment lingered, which speaks nothing of the pride and sweet joy that Merritt brings to our family, or to the growing love that I feel for him.

We were very lucky that after a swift and uncomplicated labor, I gave birth to a small but utterly healthy baby. I know now that if any of the variables of Merritt's birth had been different--if labor hadn't progressed as quickly, if there had been earlier signs of the placental abruption, if Merritt’s heart tones had recovered even just a little bit slower--he would have been sectioned out. We were very close, in fact.

I’m so grateful that Merritt breathed well on his own, that he was a good size for his gestational age, and that his little system had the opportunity to experience the stress of labor and a vaginal birth.

The smug pride that I felt for beating the odds by giving birth to Merritt in a way that was as close to what I had hoped for us as I could have grasped at the time, was overshadowed shortly after by a quiet and serious panic that set in when first I was made to wait over two hours to see my baby and then, later, when I learned what a NICU stay of any length really implies.

That low-level heightened awareness stayed with me for the full 28 days, and I remained very guarded and vigilant. I held close to my determined heart the confidence I knew as a woman who had done most of this before--birth, breastfeeding, mothering. I clung tightly to the good and powerful feelings I kept from Merritt's birthday, and found enough strength to carry both of us in the foreign world of isolettes, feeding schedules, and separation. My role in there, as Merritt's Momma, made me feel for the first time in my life that I was a grown up. Truly. Merritt's tiny person needed me more than any other single thing and knowing that I was wholly responsible to him was humbling and intensely exhausting. (Posts about our adventures in the NICU begin here.)

I feel more deeply now, though I had always believed it to be true, that the way in which our children are born, our experience of birth, and the way that we process and retell our stories, is so vitally important to our health as women and to our role as mothers, with much, much, greater far-reaching importance and consequence than our society gives credit. I find it miserably inadequate when I hear of these powerful experiences of life and birth and loss whittled down to the healthy baby, healthy mother mantra.  Many will find it hard to understand, but while I am thankful that my baby was healthy and I am also thankful that I was left intact, some things (many things) were lost for me in that experience. I grieve for those things.  And I know many mothers who feel this way and who share the same sense of longing for what could have been.

Of course, I feel so sorry that Merritt was born into a circumstance where separation of mothers from their babies is not only normal but expected. Where painful procedures are frequent and, in our case, where I conceded (more than once) to stand at the nurses station while my baby had IV lines placed, a routine for which the nursing staff wouldn't allow me to be present.  I feel a lot of guilt for leaving Merritt so vulnerable and if ever our family has to endure another stay in the NICU, I will fight against any policy that elevates a protection for nursing staff above my right and responsibility to advocate for and emotionally support my own child.

While Merritt won't remember all that he went through before we brought him home from the hospital, he certainly experienced it, and I will never forget it.  I'll always wish that he had a more peaceful and deserving entry into the world.


  1. I'm glad you finally wrote this post? I an not even image the trauma you and your family endured.. Happy birthday Met, and happy momiversary to you.

  2. You are so inspirational to me! Of course I couldn't hold back my tears when I read this one! Merritt has the BEST Momma and Poppa and you always do the best for your boys! I love you and want to say thanks for sharing!

  3. Thank you for your post. While I had a full term baby, he had many issues at delivery and was immediately taken to the NICU. Like you, I mourn over parts of his birthday, but your words sum it up perfectly. Happy Birthday Merritt!

  4. I originally found your blog last summer, when 1 of my twins, born at 36 wks had an extended stay (3 weeks) in the hospital & I suddenly found myself in the middle of a vortex. I so completely connected to the points you made in your telling about Merritt's (and mom's) experience [for instance, feeling like the role of mother was wrested from you].
    Now again- with this post - it's almost cathartic to hear you tell it(for instance, relying on your best adult self to negotiate with med staff .. prioritizing a vaginal birth, breast-feeding, skin-to-skin contact). Strangely, I rarely come across someone who goes beyond the healthy baby/healthy mother truncation of the experience. Your writings are a rare + happy find!

  5. Thanks everyone! It's so nice to hear that you have found something meaningful in my retelling of our experience. I'm so grateful for your support--I feel connected, not alone.

  6. Amazing post Jacqueline...dad and I were moved by it.


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