early days - part one

When pregnant with Calvin I was forty, so I wanted to do everything right. I quit my demanding job, took walks with our dog twice a day and swam a mile five times a week. All foods tasted great so I got excellent nutrition, ample rest and relaxation. It felt wonderful to be pregnant.

Michael and I took a class in hypnobirthing. We wanted to have the same calm, drug-free birth experience that some of our friends had had. Every day we practiced our script of positive words, relaxing images and soothing music meant to melt away stress and to prepare my body to do what nature had intended it to do.

The amniocentesis was unremarkable. The various sonograms were fine, save for a few minor issues that were expected to resolve. A follow-up sonogram was scheduled two and a half months later at week 32.

At that appointment we were sickened to learn that the lateral ventricles in Calvin’s brain were enlarged. The doctor said, “this is something that you need to worry about, it can affect I.Q. Come back in four weeks.” We were incredulous at her frigidity as we both broke down in tears. But her choice of words incited anger and I quickly channeled my fury into action.

Within days we were in a Boston hospital enrolled in a study of ventriculomegaly—the problem with Calvin’s brain. We completed a battery of tests including blood screenings, sonograms and a fetal MRI. The radiologists and neurologists believed they saw evidence of intra-ventricular and subdural hemorrhages. This may have caused a backup of cerebral spinal fluid, they told us, that consequently distended his ventricles thus thinning the surrounding white matter. The causal theory at the time was that Michael and I had a platelet incompatibility which triggered my antibodies to attack Calvin’s platelets giving rise to a bleed in his brain.

So, at just 33 weeks gestation, our baby, whose brain was in a fragile state, was going to have to be delivered early to avoid further trauma. Present during the cesarean we were to have the obstetric surgeon, two pediatric neurologists, a neurosurgeon in case a shunt was needed, donor platelets for Calvin, and two neonatologists. To ensure his lungs would be ready and working they decided it best to deliver in week 35. Until then all we could do was sit and wait.

four days before Calvin was born photo by Michael Kolster

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