When I was in my mid-20s, a friend of my parents commented that I was “the kind of person who life just works out for.” And he was right–I had a supportive family, many close friends, and a deeply fulfilling job. I had recently married the man whom I had loved since high school, and received a full scholarship for graduate school. I was a very blessed young woman.
And so, several years later, when my husband and I set out to start building our family, I–perhaps a bit brazenly–assumed that life would continue to work out. And in the beginning it seemed that it would. I immediately got pregnant, even as I watched others close to me struggle with infertility. I had easy first and second trimesters that included a month living in Israel as a last adventurous hurrah before we were to become a family of three.
It wasn’t until a month into my third trimester that I began to not feel well. I had no appetite but was constantly thirsty, my abdomen was tender, and I was “out of it.” I chalked it up to the fact that I was getting larger. I figured I’d had it so easy that I could tolerate a couple of months of being uncomfortable.
As it turned out, it would only be a few more days. The Monday after Thanksgiving I woke up vomiting. A visit to my OBGYN’s office determined that it was likely a stomach virus. I was sent home with instructions to stay hydrated. Yet, later that evening when I started to feel worse, my doctor told me to head over to the hospital. We figured an IV drip would quickly solve the problem.
You can imagine my shock when multiple doctors appeared in the triage room using words like “very serious,” “emergency,” and, “delivery now.” As organized chaos unfolded around me, I was told that due to a rare pregnancy complication called Acute Fatty Liver of Pregnancy (AFLP) my liver was not working correctly and my body was filled with toxins. The only way to reverse the condition was to deliver the baby. However, because the liver also makes platelets, I had very few of those and first would require a transfusion so that I could withstand an emergency C-section.
My husband and I had yet to discuss a birth plan, but this was certainly not what we had imagined. As I was being readied for the OR, I told my husband that I wanted him to cut the cord (do fathers even do that, or have I watched one too many romantic comedies?). The doctor responded that my husband couldn’t be in the room because I would be under general anesthesia.
It was then that the severity of the situation hit me. Neither of us would experience the moment that our child was born. We would not be able to look back on his first breath, on his first cry, on the time when he emerged into the world ripe with newness. For some reason this is what upset me the most–more than the fear of giving birth to a baby two months early, of my own failing health, or of the startling speed at which everything had changed from routine to crisis.
The next few days remain blurry as my body struggled to heal itself. I remember snippets of time–being told that I had a boy, a baby photo brought to my ICU bedside, visits by liver specialists. On the third day of my son’s life, with my condition becoming less critical, I was wheeled into the NICU on a stretcher to meet my son for the first time. I vaguely recall nurses laying him on my chest for a few minutes before he was returned to his incubator and I was returned to my hospital room.
The story is uphill from there. I continued to recover and was released from the hospital the following week. After several weeks in the NICU, my son also came home. Today, with two healthy, active sons (the second also born premature due to AFLP, but in a far less dangerous situation) I often think of my parents’ friend’s words, and I am eternally grateful that I am still the kind of person for whom “life just works out.” When I came home from the hospital, I got up the courage to Google AFLP. I read with tears streaming down my face of maternal and fetal death rates, of people who did not know what was wrong until it was too late, of doctors who had dismissed their patients’ symptoms as normal side effects of pregnancy. Yet, I had been fortunate enough to have doctors who listened to me, who realized that something was not right, and who knew how to fix it.
And though I may have missed the first precious days of my son’s life, I have had the luxury of experiencing countless other firsts–his first word, his first step, the first time he swam by himself, and most recently the loss of his first tooth. As I savor these milestones, I pray that, along with my penchant for a good story and my sweet tooth, he will inherit the great fortune that has characterized my life.