When I missed a period at 33, I assumed my erratic travel schedule and weight fluctuation were to blame. It didn’t occur to me that I might be pregnant. Eager to sell our condo in Hackensack, I planned a day of house tours. After just two walk-throughs, I was exhausted. It was early for ice cream, but a trip to Bischoff’s on Cedar Lane couldn’t be avoided.
Considering I was never home, I questioned whether a pregnancy was even possible, but I had to be sure. With bubble gum, red licorice, lip gloss, and an in-home pregnancy test in hand, I approached the young CVS cashier, certain he knew my secret.
The test was positive. Unwilling to trust its efficacy, I drove to the local pharmacy on Essex Street. I bought two more pregnancy tests. Positive. Known to second- (or third-) guess, I called a friend. “Min, I may be pregnant. “What! Really?” “Well, I’m not sure, but I took two tests.” “Did you see the plus sign?” “Yes.” “Then it’s positive!” “No, I need you to look at it.” She agreed to come after work, but in the interim, I went back to the pharmacy with my stick and showed it to the learned man behind the counter. “Positive,” he confirmed.
My heart raced as a range of emotions cascaded through my heart and mind. Within a few hours, Mindy arrived. “Deb, you’re pregnant.”
From that moment on, my life changed rapidly. Major decisions were being made at warp speed. I resigned from my job as a program director for a medical education company. Traveling nationally multiple times per week was not conducive to pregnancy health. We sold the condo and bought a home in Wyckoff. Our two-door Honda with the sunroof was replaced with a safer four-door Toyota Camry. We interviewed a pediatrician, toured the local elementary school, and discussed the fine points of child-rearing.
When we did share our good news, I was reserved. Perhaps I was superstitious.
My pregnancy was uneventful. Preoccupied with the renovations to update our new home, we readied ourselves for our family of three. Enduring one of the worst winters on record, by mid-December and at 28 weeks gestation, our roof began leaking. Not just leaking but gushing from the heavy snow on the flat roof. I called our roofer, insisting the sky was falling.
With Donny on the roof, I went back to Vicki Iovine’s The Girlfriend’s Guide to Pregnancy, but when I began to have what felt like menstrual cramps, I called my OB. He instructed me to time what I learned were contractions. Confused and worried, I reported my findings. “You’re in preterm labor,” he told me.
After injectable medicine was prescribed to slow the contractions and a stay-at-home bedrest directive was instituted, I spent my days watching Seinfeld, drinking vats of water, and shouting orders to the various contractors who promised to be done before the baby was born. Each night, I recorded my contractions with a portable machine and sent them through to a remote nursing service. Trips to Pea in the Pod, Crib City, or the local Ivy Shop whose precious layettes had always caught my attention were off the table. Prepaid Lamaze classes, breast-feeding lectures, even plans for my birthday that required airplane travel, needed to be cancelled. While my belly was expanding, and my baby was growing, I was not exuding the “pregnancy glow” or joyful outlook that “What to Expect When You’re Expecting” had promised.
When the contractions could no longer be controlled by injectable medication, I moved from my comfy couch to a private room at Englewood Hospital where IV medication was ordered for the duration of my pregnancy. With compassion and understanding, the nurses listened round the clock while I recanted all of the things I “must’ve done wrong,” including but not limited to eating spicy chili, not drinking red wine when my mother-in-law told me it would help me relax, and choosing Bunny Jo, a sweet Laura Ashley pattern for the baby’s room when I was sure Jews weren’t supposed to prepare materially for a baby’s birth.
Day after day, the medical staff assured me I was not at fault, noting my “irritable uterus.” I blamed myself for that too. Then it happened. On January 14, 1996, my blood pressure had elevated to dangerous levels and my doctor was called in. “Best to call Jay,” he said, “we’re going to have the baby today.” “TODAY?” I screamed. “What about March 8th?” Firmly, he repeated, “for the health of you and your baby, we need to deliver TODAY.” I relented, praying that everything would be okay. And it was.
So, immersed in standing vigil at the tiny isolette that held my tiny son, born at 32 weeks, hours turned into days. I couldn’t imagine dressing without the covering of a yellow paper robe with yellow booties. I didn’t know that my parents, in-laws, and other loved ones had chosen the furniture that would make up our baby’s room or that all of the accoutrement necessary for his safe arrival was lined up carefully for my approval or that pediatrician appointments were scheduled, baby announcements had been ordered, and even a mohel was on call for a bris.
Making lemonade from lemons is what we do when life doesn’t happen as we plan. After weeks in the NICU, endless support and guidance from the most experienced and knowledgeable nurses, expert direction from a developmental pediatrician who’d charted my son’s 24/7 progress, and the camaraderie of women in an American Red Cross sponsored Parenting Preemies group, our five-pound son, Robert, named for my husband’s grandmother Rose, came home. Miracle of miracles.
My next two pregnancies were identical, but I was prepared. My irritable uterus may have resulted in three premature births, but my three amazing sons, now 25, 23, and 20, surpass me in height, weight, technological prowess, courage, resilience and positivity.
Just for today, I’m glowing.
Deborah Breslow is a writer, editor and college-essay coach from Wyckoff, NJ. Her work appears in publications focusing on home, family, and medical advocacy. www.djbreslow.com.