This is a submission in our monthly contest. November’s theme is Gratitude. Enter your own here!
Last November, my little family – my husband, my then-four-year-old son, and myself – began what I had hoped would be a new family tradition: a gratitude tree.
It sounds cheesy, right? I found it on Pinterest, of course, and after perusing dozens of templates, I selected both a tree silhouette and a leaf template for us to use. I used a fair amount of our precious color ink to print them both out, then painstakingly cut out each individual leaf. The actual tradition itself, if indeed it is destined to be one, took all of 10 minutes. We took turns saying something we were grateful for, wrote a word on a leaf, and then glued the leaf onto the tree.
After Thanksgiving, I carefully stashed that tree in our autumn decoration box, nestled between a handprint Turkey and a string of paper leaves, and much of our gratitude was quickly forgotten by all in the joy of setting up our holiday tree and preparing for the season of gift giving. But this year, as I pulled out our few Thanksgiving decorations to hang on our walls, I took a few moments to read over all the things we were grateful for last year.
One leaf stood out to me: Coconut Baby. Because you see, last year, I was holding my breath. We all were.
At Thanksgiving last year, I was pregnant. My third pregnancy since my son was born, although it was the only one that had lasted beyond the first trimester. I was not quite four months pregnant, just over the hump into my second trimester. We had tentatively told our parents and siblings. We had recently moved across the country, courtesy of the US Navy, and I had settled into care with a perinatologist near our new home to monitor what I already knew would be a high risk pregnancy.
So far, this pregnancy was proceeding normally. I’d already had an ultrasound, which showed a strong heartbeat and normal growth. All bloodwork was normal. I was feeling good overall, although, as anyone who has ever suffered a loss in the past could tell you, the fear that something could suddenly go awry was never far from my mind. I felt for movement constantly; I checked the toilet every time I used it for blood; I religiously avoided caffeine, strenuous exercise, and anything else I thought might somehow provoke my body into another miscarriage.
And despite the overwhelming odds, to paraphrase a line from one of my favorite songs, tomorrow came. Days passed, weeks, months. My pregnancy continued to progress, although it also got riskier, compounding the inherent internal stress that comes with carrying any baby especially a rainbow baby.
I’m Rh sensitized, you see – I have Rh negative blood, my husband has Rh positive, and at some point in my past, enough blood from one of our babies got into my own bloodstream to provoke an immune response. (And to those wondering, yes, I had the shot after my older son was born.) Consequently, my new baby was at constant risk; once my body realized Coconut Baby was there, my immune system would start creating antibodies against the baby’s blood. If too many of those antibodies destroyed too much of my baby’s blood cells, Coconut Baby could become anemic, and fetal anemia is potentially deadly.
Fortunately, in our age of modern medical science, we can both monitor my condition – via bloodwork and ultrasounds – and treat baby should complications arise – via intrauterine blood transfusions. Yes, we have the capability to give blood transfusions to babies while they’re still in the womb. Coconut Baby received three of them over the course of my third trimester.
It was a high risk pregnancy culminating in a fairly breezy birth, which was followed by a stay in the NICU. Baby came slightly premature, but thankfully was not anemic. However, the biggest consequence of my antibodies still present in baby’s own bloodstream was an excess of bilirubin – jaundice. After 11 days in the hospital – 11 days in which I pumped every three hours around the clock to bring in my milk, and in which I visited the NICU every single day while still trying to be a present and connected mother to my older son – plus a few additional weeks of extra monitoring, our baby boy was declared to be in the clear.
At Thanksgiving this year, Coconut Baby will be about seven months old. He’s chunky and snuggly, curious and clever, and absolutely normal in every way. For more than four years, I wasn’t sure I’d ever manage to give birth again, but thankfully, the universe has proven those fears unfounded. And I can guarantee you that our gratitude tree will once again have a leaf with this sweet baby’s name on it.