It Felt Like I Failed My Baby

In those first few weeks of her life, along with relief and wonder at her progress, I felt a nagging sense of failure. I didn't know what I had done wrong, but I must have botched something.
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"What's her name?"

The doctor is kind, but serious. She has just started moving the ultrasound wand around on my belly.

For a second, I can't remember. My brain is exploding, and I'm searching through the chaos and rubble of my thoughts for the name my husband and I chose for our third baby girl.

I stare at the doctor. I'm frozen. Then, finally, in a rush of relief, I say her name out loud.

"Claire. Her name is Claire."

"Oh, that's a beautiful name. And here she is, see? Nice, strong heartbeat."

I let out the breath I didn't realize I'd been holding, but I don't cry, not yet. I'm in the hospital, 34 weeks pregnant, talking to a doctor who is not my own about placental abruptions, if I'd eaten recently, and how long it would take my husband to get here from work.

I'm having this baby today.

I thought I had so much more time. I was supposed to have her room ready. I was supposed to feel ready. I was going to try for a VBAC, with my own doctor, in the bigger, fancier hospital.

I'm not ready. The baby's not ready.

But just an hour earlier, there was so much blood. And everything happened so fast after that: making calls, grabbing paper towels to cover the seat of my mother's car, telling my friend where to find peanut butter, diapers, and sippy cups for the twins.

I was calm. It didn't feel real.

The baby is fine. How could she not be? I had just felt her tumbling around in there as I drove home from the store. She kicked. She rolled. She's OK.

I don't cry until I'm flat on my back on a gurney, being wheeled into the operating room. The tears suddenly bubble up and I can't stop. The vulnerability of lying on my back, no longer in control of anything that's happening to me, has hit, and I sob.

I'm scared and lonely and there are so many people, so many lights in this operating room, and oh, thank God -- here he is. My husband is here. He made it. He holds my hand. We're together, doing this again, but it's so very different from last time.

Quickly, so quickly (how do they do it so quickly?), my girl is out. The pediatrician is here. I trust her to do everything right -- to make the right call, to check and fix and hold and save. I don't have any other choice. She lets me give the baby a quick kiss, but that tiny face is purple. She's whisked away and I don't know what's happening to her.

"How much does she weigh?" I ask.

Someone tells me she weighs 4 pounds, 11 ounces, and I think that sounds solid. Much smaller than I had hoped, but solid.

She is alive. She is OK. She will spend a couple of weeks in the NICU figuring out the complicated process of eating and breathing at the same time, but she is strong. More than one NICU nurse will call her "feisty," and I will be so proud.

Modern medicine is amazing. She is amazing.


In those first few weeks of her life, along with relief and wonder at her progress, I felt a nagging sense of failure. I didn't know what I had done wrong, but I must have botched something. She should have been bigger, stronger, healthier when she was born. How could I have failed my baby?

Our 21st-century medical knowledge is astounding. Pregnant women are given clear instructions on diet, vitamins, exercise, and rest. We know what things to look out for, what foods to avoid, what sleeping positions are best. But perhaps a problem with all of this knowledge is that we (or at least, I) can let it make us feel safe, like we can prevent anything from going wrong just by following all the rules. When I gave birth to big, full-term twins, I was made to feel proud of myself, as though by doing everything right with my pregnancy, I had caused my babies to be so healthy. Getting praise from doctors and nurses felt great. I was a superhero. Look at me, the Queen of Motherhood!

So then, when my next pregnancy resulted in a preemie, I couldn't help but feel like I had done something wrong. I didn't get this one right. If my first one was an A+, then this was more like a C. I felt like I had to justify myself when telling the story of my baby's premature birth:

"It was a placental abruption! The doctor said that they can happen out of nowhere! They have no idea what caused it!"

I was worried that people would think that she was born early because I forgot to take my folic acid. Or because I dyed my hair, lugged my toddlers around, and got a pedicure.

But really, in the end, no one is a superhero. There is no Queen of Motherhood. We are all just humans, and to be human is to be vulnerable, no matter how strong or brave or smart we are. We may have more knowledge than ever before, but our knowledge can't save us from the pain and difficulty of being human.

Today, my girl is 2 years old. She goes down the big slide by herself. She has a wicked vocabulary and she hates vegetables. In the words of Shakespeare, "Though she be but little, she is fierce." I don't have to feel guilty about her premature birth, because it really doesn't matter how she came into this world; I'm just so grateful that she did.

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