It was mid-July. My summer vacation was half-way over. We had celebrated Cortland’s first birthday. I was enjoying the time at home with my little family. The time I was pregnant with Wilhelmina was the happiest time in our marriage. We were closer than we had ever been. Arguments and threats were a thing of the past. It really seemed like there was hope and a bright future for us.
My step-children were over a lot. They spent a lot of their summer with us. And honestly, I didn’t mind it at all. Cortland always had someone to occupy him and I was enjoying my pregnancy, while I watched him learn to walk and explore his little world.
It was a Wednesday morning. I went to use the restroom and noticed that I was bleeding heavily. I immediately informed my husband and we both agreed that I needed to be seen by a doctor. I called their office and they told me to check into the Labor and Delivery unit. Since we had a house full of children, I drove the 20 minutes through Silver Lake and Hollywood and walked into the Emergency Room at Kaiser Los Angeles. I was placed in a wheel chair and pushed through to Labor and Delivery.
The doctors quickly examined me and did an ultrasound. The good news was the baby was moving and had a heartbeat. The bad news, I was almost fully dilated. I was 27 weeks and 2 days along in my pregnancy. The following week would be the start of my 3rd trimester. As soon as I heard the news, I called my husband. He was concerned and worried. He wondered when I would be able to return home. The doctors informed me I would be going no where until I delivered the baby. I would be confined to the bed in the hospital. I wouldn’t be able to even walk to use the restroom. The baby could be delivered at any moment or it might be another 3 months. They just couldn’t say.
The next phone call was to my mother. It was one of the hardest phone calls to her I ever had to make. Especially since, during that week she had been dealing with another major family crisis. My mother, clearly devastated, agreed to come watch the kids so my husband could come join me in the hospital.
The doctors pumped me with steroids to quickly develop the baby’s lungs and magnesium to help prevent other complications. The magnesium made me feel gross, nauseous and loopy.
The doctors informed me that if I went into active labor, they would rush me into having an emergency C-section. The baby was breech and natural delivery would not be an option.
As I remained in that hospital bed, I thought about Cortland and how much he probably missed me. I worried about my unborn daughter. Unfortunately, I knew too much about the impacts of prematurity and was already pre-planning for the services and help she would need to live a normal life. I was scared. The most scared I have ever felt in my life were in those hours.
My husband left to go home that night. I laid in my bed and cried. One of the amazing nurses gave me hugs and reassured me that we were in good hands. Here I was alone again in a hospital bed.
The next day my mom came to visit. She stayed with me all day. Later in the day, my best friend and her daughter drove over an hour and came to visit too. They helped keep my mind off of all the stress. The made me laugh and giggle. While we all visited, the baby suddenly became very active. You could see her move in my belly. It felt like she was doing somersaults. My mom decided to stay with me that night.
At about 5 am the next morning, I started to feel uneasiness. There was some significant cramping. The nurses checked the monitors and immediately called the doctor. I was in active labor. The doctors decided to do an ultrasound before preparing for a C-section.
A miracle had occurred. The night before, the baby had turned and was head down. No C-section was necessary. I immediately reached for my phone to call my husband. He was asleep and his phone was off. Suddenly, in the midst of pain and worry about delivering a premature baby, I became angry! How dare he turn his phone off? I thought to myself, “Who does that? Who turns their phone off when their wife is in the hospital with pregnancy complications?” I wanted him there, but after about 35 minutes of repeated phone calls, I no longer cared. I was irate, hurt, scared and disgusted. At some point, he woke up and answered his phone.
An anesthesiologist came in to give me an epidural. But the epidural only took to my right side. So the pain on the left side felt even more intense. He tried the epidural again. Suddenly, there was a room full of, what felt like a thousand people, waiting for me to deliver the baby. It was loud from the noise of all the chatter and equipment. I tried to stay focused on just delivering my baby. I was alone. There was a strange nurse who was holding my hand through my labor. My husband didn’t make it in time.
At 6:45 am, after two quick pushes, my shining star, Wilhelmina was born. I expected to hear nothing from her, but I heard her cry. At 27 weeks gestation, this little 1 pound, 12 ounce baby cried. It was the most beautiful noise I had ever heard. The doctor brought her to me, let me give her a quick kiss and she was immediately taken to the NICU.
About 5 minutes after she was taken out of the room, my husband came in. I almost wanted to tell him to just turn around and leave. But I was too exhausted to fight.
Wilhelmina stayed in the hospital for about 2 months. Driving home and leaving her there made me want to throw up. If I could just stay with her. It was impossible though. I also had a baby at home who needed his mommy.
The NICU had very strict rules. No children under 5 would be able to visit. It wouldn’t be possible to take Cortland in to see her.
Two weeks after delivering Wilhelmina, I made the decision to return to work. Staying home made no sense. I couldn’t leave Cortland all day so I wouldn’t be able to visit with Wilhelmina either. It made more sense for me to use my time off to spend with her when she came home. But I was sickened by the thought she would be an hour away from me in the NICU. My husband never went to see her in the hospital on his own. I had to be with him for him to go. Our baby stayed in that cold hospital alone.
For two months, I woke up every morning at 6 am. I packed Cortland up and took him to daycare and commuted to Riverside from Downtown LA to work until 3 pm. Then I returned home. Some days my husband wanted to visit Wilhelmina. So one of us would go in with her and the other would push Cortland around in his stroller in the hospital hallway. Other days, I would drop Cortland off at home, get him fed and ready for bed, then head off to the hospital alone. There were days that I wouldn’t get home until 11 pm. I was a walking zombie for those two months. I often think back and wonder how I did it. My only answer is: by the grace and mercy of God. There was not a day I did not visit Wilhelmina. No matter how exhausted I was, I drove the 20 minutes and walked the 5 minutes from the parking garage to her room.
Wilhelmina was born for early for a few reasons: 1) The doctors said she was born to save her own life. The placenta was partially abrupted and her umbilical cord was tied in a knot. 2) She was born so Baron could join our family. I became pregnant with him before she was due to be born.
Today, Wilhelmina Star is a tiny girl, with a big name. She is smart, feisty and sassy. There’s not a thing wrong with her. She loves to sing and dance all day. She loves playing with her dolls and can occupy herself for hours. She bosses her brothers around and they follow her commands. She finds comfort in sucking her thumb and rubbing her nose with her index finger. She is kind and humble. She has big hair and knows she is a beautiful inside and out. She reminds me daily of the importance of being goofy and carefree. She’s helpful and will always figure out a way of getting what she wants. This quote by William Shakespeare captures the essence of my Wilhelmina: “And though she be but little, she is fierce.”
Happy 5th mBirthday, my Wilhelmina Star! Go show the world what you’re made of!