What NOT to Expect When You’re Expecting

On the 25th of May, at 7:23pm, I became a father when my daughter was born with a tiny squeak resembling a cry and her middle finger in the air. For a moment, somewhere between my shock and surprise of the moment, I thought that everything would be alright. The major problem I was trying to ignore was that Zoey was born premature. The normal gestation period of a human being is 40 weeks in the womb, Zoey was 23 weeks at the moment she was born.

Four days prior to being born, Sarah started having contractions and went to the hospital knowing they were early. After a dose of magnesium sulfate the medical staff was able to stop the contractions and Sarah spent the next four days in the hospital to make sure she wouldn’t go into labor again. On Thursday of that week, Sarah was discharged after remaining stable and living only a few blocks away from the hospital.

Sarah and I live in a small bubble in Kalamazoo Michigan. I live a few streets over from Sarah’s house in the same neighborhood. Both of our houses are less than a mile from downtown and the hospital. One block away from the hospital is the public library that I work for. Everything important in our lives is within walking distance from each other.

I helped Sarah return home that afternoon knowing she hadn’t experienced a contraction in four days. After making sure she was comfortable at home, having everything she might need while on bed rest, I went back to work at my second shift job and made sure she had the phone numbers she would need if something happened.

That evening was the first day the library started their summer hours, closing at 6 o’clock instead of 9 pm. The usual confusion from the time change made it difficult have patrons leave the building. Patrons argued with staff and slowly moved out of the door with the last one exiting the door fifteen minutes after we had closed. As the sliding doors shut for the final time, my supervisor’s phone rang and he handed it over to me. Sarah was in a panic and needed to return to the hospital. I handed the phone back to my supervisor who took control of the situation telling me “here is what you are going to do, grab your things, take her to the hospital and don’t worry about coming back to work tonight.”

The moment I was out the door I sprinted to my car that was parked two streets over, racing past two bars and a construction area without stopping, this was the first time I had sprinted like this in two years. Arriving at the parking lot, wide eyed and breathing heavy, I looked over at two guys trying to break into a Jeep parked close by. They looked at me and I stood there starring back at them. I thought to myself I don’t have time for this. To everyone’s benefit, they back away from the vehicle and ran out of the parking lot. I can only imagine how I looked at that moment.

I raced to my car, putting it into drive and squealed out of the parking lot to find the road was lined with orange cones. That day was the Girls on the Run event taking place through town. Everyone was driving slow and for good reason. An army of young girls would be jogging through completing a 5k run and I wondered if this was Zoey’s way of becoming the youngest girl to participate in her own way. The one vehicle I ended up following was a large white pickup truck with a Ted Cruz bumper sticker. At one point, I hollered out “I know you don’t believe in healthcare but could you at least learn how to drive!” since he was only going 15 MPH.

I arrived at Sarah’s house and told her to leave anything she didn’t need to check into the unit. We drive around the blocked off streets and she was admitted right away. Less than an hour later, on the second push, Zoey was born with a small cry and her middle finger pointed at the doctor. As tiny as she was this little girl had a plan. She wasn’t going to wait like the doctor’s and her parents wanted, she had made up her mind and was coming early. That same moment, after a series of gloomy and cloudy days, the sky cleared and the sun came out. Zoey was given a breathing tube and placed in an isolette to regulate her body heat.

An isolette is like an incubator for babies, protecting them from infection and creating their own little world to continue growing in their young state. At 17 weeks early, Zoey’s organs were not completely developed and she would need help living in the real world. If she had been born before reaching 23 weeks her lungs wouldn’t be able to breathe and she never would have survived. Sarah was able to hold her hand for a moment before Zoey was rushed off to NICU across the hall. We had only discovered we would be parents at the end of January and the week before finished painting her nursery. We were, and still are, in shock at already being parents.

I had read all the parenting books in my possession about becoming a father, What to Expect When You’re Expecting and The Caveman’s Book on Parenting. None of these books prepared me for this. Everything for the next week was a crash course on having a preemie. I have yet to figure out a way to describe the helplessness and despair that comes from having your child sitting in a hospital room while you are trying to fall asleep at home.

Two days later, Sarah had already been discharged having no complications on her end of the labor, and we sat on her couch watching reruns of Parks and Recreation while eating the biggest meal we had that week. I looked over at her after placing the last tortilla chip in my mouth and said “why is it that we just had a baby and I feel like our lives haven’t changed at all?” A half mile away Zoey was resting in her little plastic world at the NICU and we were doing the exact same thing we would have been doing on a Saturday night. The NICU staff encouraged us to go out and do something normal as a couple.

They knew something we didn’t, while we had just had a baby our lives for the coming months would be far different from other parents that return home with their child. Our reality would consist of constant hospital visits, only being able to hold our child for a few hours at a time outside of the isolette, and the ups and downs of her health as Zoey tried to reach the age of a newborn. This is our world at the moment, what the nurses refer to as “a non-stop roller coaster ride.” I hate roller coasters, but after this a theme park ride will appear to be no different from a walk in the park.

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Photo Credit: Getty Images