“I think we should deliver soon,” she said.
My husband, Jordan, and I sheepishly exchanged looks. My voice cracked as I asked our doctor, “How soon?”
Her confident recommendation was a single word, “today.”
Worst-case scenarios flooded my mind as quickly as tears swelled in my eyes. I didn’t want to waste time asking questions. She offered me a tissue and just enough time to drive home to scrounge up a few belongings before we checked in to Labor & Delivery at Trinity Hospital.
We had been watching my blood pressure for a few weeks. It wasn’t until mid September that my OB scheduled me for a growth ultrasound, noting that Baby Hughes was measuring a bit small. It didn’t seem serious, but that appointment went longer than they had in the past. I was measured and re-measured three times by two different technicians and finally was sent upstairs to meet with our doctor.
I don’t remember much from that appointment. She had already called for a second opinion, mentioned something about IUGR, and confidently shared her recommendation for an early delivery. The thought of it hadn’t once crossed my mind. In fact, I had promised – sworn, really – left and right that there was absolutely no way my water would break during Minot State University Homecoming Week. We weren't scheduled to meet our little mister for another six weeks. It seems silly now.
Like reasonable adults, we spent that first evening in the hospital Googling what IUGR meant and what it could mean for our family's future. Ultimately, intrauterine growth restriction (IUGR) refers to a condition in which an unborn baby is smaller than it should be because it is not growing at a normal rate inside the womb. At the time, that didn’t really mean much to us either. So there I sat in a hospital gown. Waiting for something that seemed “normal” – my water to break? Contractions to start? An urge to push? None of which came.
My memories of Graham's birth are of a sleepless night flooded with the faint sound of his heartbeat that drowned out the ticking of the clock. The calming and confident sound of my doctor's voice, recommending we move forward with an early morning c-section. A cold operating room table surrounded by strangers – women I'd never met, all calm and collected, helping me feel safe and cared for. And a tiny window to my left in which my husband watched patiently for the first sight of his precious newborn.
I heard one tiny cry from behind the cold blue curtain and it wasn’t long before a tiny precious baby was placed next to my left shoulder. And just like that I was a momma.
Graham Dennis Hughes was born at 6:21 a.m. on September 15, 2015, weighing a whopping two pounds, fourteen ounces, and standing tall at sixteen inches. His hands were little, and his hurdles were great.
We waited all day for the okay to scrub into the NICU for our first visit. It wasn’t quite what I thought my first moments with my son would look like. I had anticipated balloons, visitors, and bringing my new baby home after a few short days in the hospital – not tubes, seclusion, and medical jargon.
Graham was small, indeed – but the NICU staff never made us feel small. Physically, they helped him bulk up, and mentally, they helped build our confidence too. We were his mommy and daddy now, and although our hands were trembling, we always felt like his parents, not his visitors.
A few days later, we checked out of the hospital without a baby in our arms. I held it together until we pulled out of the parking lot. It was strange and unnatural.
For three weeks I visited the NICU three times a day. I vigorously pumped at work so I could feel like I was contributing as a mother. At every visit, a three-minute scrub-in separated him from the warmth of our arms. It took every ounce of my being not to run to his incubator and scoop him up in my arms, smothering him with love and kisses.
We kept smiling because we had to. We faked confidence because he counted on us. My physical recovery was a breeze compared to the heaviness I felt in my heart. I just had a baby but he was invisible to most, someone we could tell people about but they could only see in pictures.
I cried at his first bath. And again when I snapped the buttons on his first pair of pajamas. We celebrated every ounce gained. But we also felt immense guilt. Our little NICU baby was in such good health compared to the others. He never needed oxygen and only needed a feeding tube for a short time. Other mommas faced much heavier weights than I did. Also, I was angry. My body robbed me of “normal.” I never felt my water break, the pain of a contraction, or the urge to push. But I was grateful too – grateful for the foresight of my doctor.
Graham was discharged at three weeks old, weighing four whole pounds. The click of his car seat in the hospital parking lot was the first sound of our new normal. In early October, we finally went home as a family of three.
Today he is a spunky four month old – finally filling out those newborn clothes! He is still small but he doesn't know it.
I love my husband.
I love our cat.
But my love for my son is fiercer than anything I’ve ever known.
He is our greatest adventure.