I couldn’t wait to be pregnant, and I just knew that everything would go perfectly. After all, most pregnancies go well right? And I was in my 20s, with no health problems. And I was me (don’t we always feel like nothing bad can happen to us – until something does?), so why wouldn’t my pregnancy go smoothly?
My first pregnancy was the first time I really understood that bad things can happen, that things can go wrong. And it shook me.
When I was around 37 weeks pregnant with my first son, my blood pressure started creeping up. It wasn’t alarming, but the OB decided to keep an eye on it. At my 38 week appointment, it was still rising, and she scheduled an ultrasound to just check and see how the baby was doing. I wasn’t overly concerned – I could feel him kicking away.
When we got our ultrasound, though, we discovered that he was very small.
They estimated about 5.5 pounds – and at this stage he should have been around 7 pounds or even more. My doctor decided to induce me a few days later, and I entered the hospital clutching my husband’s hand in the very early hours of the morning. I was so anxious – I had never given birth before, and now this was not going to be a “normal” birth. There were potential problems.
I ended up giving birth relatively quickly and I had my baby in my arms by 11 am that day. But he wasn’t just small – he was TINY. Four pounds and fourteen ounces to be exact. He was a normal length so he was soooo skinny … he had not an ounce of fat on him. He was scary to look at, to be honest, because I already loved this baby more than anything and he did not look healthy.
I was later informed that my son had suffered from something called Intrauterine Growth Restriction (IUGR)
Which, simply put, means that something is keeping the baby from growing as big as most babies while still in utero. It can be hard to catch (my baby belly was measuring normally and I had gained the right amount of weight, and my baby measured normally at our earlier ultrasounds), and can land babies in the NICU while they gain weight and learn to maintain a healthy temperature.
That week was scary – I brought William home after two days but he could not stay warm due to not having any meat on his bones. His temperature dropped so low that he needed to be re-hospitalized for a few days. I was utterly traumatized. When I was able to bring him home for good, I became obsessed with taking his temperature and keeping the house warm and him wrapped in blankets at all times. All of the little newborn pictures we have are of him in a hat – we rarely saw the top of his head in those days!
Thankfully, he turned out to be a champion breastfeeder and his weight shot up with impressive speed.
I was so immensely grateful for every ounce gained.
A little over a year later, I found myself pregnant with what would be our second son. This time, due to my history, my OB and Maternal Fetal Medicine monitored him closely and induced at 38 weeks when it appeared that he was not going to grow anymore. Henry was born at 5 pounds, 9 ounces, perfectly healthy but still small. Now we knew that this was not a one-time occurrence – my body would never grow a big baby, but they were healthy, something I will never take for granted.
There are various reasons for Intrauterine Growth Restriction, and some are never discovered. My OB’s best guess it that my placenta just doesn’t last a whole 40 weeks – that sometime around the 35th week, it starts to fail. The placenta is what brings food to the baby. I have complicated feelings about this. Obviously, I know that this is beyond my control, but there is guilt that comes with not being able to feed my babies what they need in order to be born chunky. Over time, the guilt has lessened, but after my first son was born, I cringed every time someone exclaimed over how small he was. “He’s so tiny!” they would say, not knowing that their words felt like they were rubbing salt into a wound. “I KNOW!” I wanted to yell back.
IUGR was not something I had ever heard of before I was pregnant, and while it is somewhat rare, I know I’m not alone in this experience.
I hope my story may make someone else feel less alone. Pregnancy and birth are complicated, and this is something else i have thought about a lot since this happened to my family. It makes me feel like normal, uncomplicated pregnancies — something I would have perhaps taken for granted had things gone differently — are true miracles.