My baby, the Cabbage Patch Kid

I never had a Cabbage Patch Kid.
I think maybe it was because in the early 80’s when they really took off and became popular I was too old to play with dolls.
Or maybe it was because they were ugly as shit.
Whichever it was, the fact that I was never a fan became all the more ironic when I first became a mother at age 26 and had a real live Cabbage Patch Kid of my own.

I’m not lying.
When my first daughter was born 10 and a half weeks prematurely, the only clothes she could wear (when she was finally able to wear clothes after some of her wires and tubes were removed) were literally the clothes found in the toy store for Cabbage Patch Kids. You may be saddened at the tragic image of me as a new, first time mom wandering the doll aisles of Toys R Us looking for baby clothes instead of over in the infant section, but don’t worry. I was way too busy in the NICU every day washing my hands forty-three thousand times and learning about oxygen saturation and spinal taps and vein blowouts from IVs and trying like hell to get my impossibly small baby to learn to suck, swallow and breathe at the same time to be doing any shopping.

But I’ve gotten a little bit ahead of myself.
Let me start at the beginning, 22 years ago today.

One of the things I remember most about that day was a glass of orange juice.
I was standing at my kitchen counter drinking a glass of orange juice when I called my doctor.
For the past few days I’d been leaking — fairly heavily — what I thought was urine. Why would I, at 27 weeks pregnant, be so quick to assume the fluid that was continually coming out of me was urine and not something more critical to, oh, I don’t know, my baby’s survival you ask??
Because my doctor told me that’s what it was when I had gone to see him about it three days earlier. Told me not to worry. And of course, as one usually does, I trusted my doctor, and despite the pesky nuisance the leaking created, went shopping, took walks and even took baths over that weekend.
I know what you’re thinking. Believe me, I know what you’re thinking.

Back to the orange juice.
When the nurse told me there was an immediate opening and I should come in for a quick test,  I put my glass of orange juice in the fridge, grabbed my purse and ran out the door.
The next time I saw that glass of orange juice, I was a mother.

I won’t bore you with all the details of what transpired over the next six days, but let me give you the short version.

The nurse gave me a very quick test and discovered I was leaking amniotic fluid (and had been for three days). The he-should-be-damn-thankful-he-wasn’t-sued-for-malpractice doctor sent me directly to the hospital (do not pass GO, do not collect your $200) where I was immediately hooked up to the poison known as Magnesium Sulfate to stop any contractions. I was given a catheter (because complete bed rest is the Rx for “Premature Rupture of Membranes” — not walks and baths, obviously), my first of three steroid injections to help her lungs develop (think of the biggest needle you can imagine…and multiply by 10), and the first of several sessions with doctors and therapists who came in to try to gently prepare my husband and me for the chain of events that were sure to follow, including showing us the approximate size our baby would be…if she survived.

The next several days have become a blur of memories that include the unimaginative pain and borderline psychosis associated with a slow drip of Magnesium Sulfate, sleepless nights, fear, disbelief, worry and hope.
Hope that I would defy the odds I was given that I’d have this baby any day, and worry that if I didn’t, she’d be okay.

On the sixth day, after I’d been (thankfully) taken off the Mag, my temperature spiked and I went into labor.
Let me put the timing of this into perspective for you: It was October 22nd. I was due January 5th.
You might think that being 28 weeks pregnant I’d have an easy labor. And you may be right.
I don’t have anything to compare it to since five years later I went through the very same thing again with my second daughter.
But I know this. It wasn’t fun. But thankfully, it was fast.

I’ll never forget the image of my impossibly tiny baby. She was a little broken bird, all bones folded in on each other and bluish, hairy skin stretched tightly across.
But her eyes. Her eyes! Her eyes were dark and enormous, and after the team of specialists had whisked her to the back of the room to put her back into a plastic “womb” and were wheeling her quickly to the NICU, they paused to let me look at her for a brief moment. She looked right at me. Right at me. And all I could think of to say was, “Hi baby. I’m so sorry.” Maybe not the most heartwarming first words to say to your baby, but they were heartfelt. Tragically so. I was sorry. So sorry for whatever my body had done to fail her; sorry for her harsh entrance into this world and sorry for the certain struggles her little body would have to overcome.

Four days old

Four days old

Twenty four hours later I got to go home. Without my baby. My baby who I had yet to hold (and wouldn’t get to for another week and a half). There are two things I remember most about that day.
The first is that we were so dead tired when we got home that my husband immediately went to take a nap and I went to the pharmacy for my prescriptions (I’ve since forgiven him). There was some mix up and the clerk was short with me and I was so tired and worried and had so many hormones raging through me that I started sobbing and crying and just about collapsed right there at the pharmacy counter. Let me tell you, she turned real nice, real fast.
The next was finding that glass of orange juice in the fridge.
The glass of orange juice that started it all.
Funny how such a seemingly inconsequential thing sticks with you.

Obviously, my story, and hers, ends well.
After five weeks – five terrifying weeks full of minor setbacks and procedures (for her) and breakdowns (me) and too many needles in her minuscule hands and feet and head to count – she came home.
And she immediately thrived.

Two months old

Two months old, as big as a horse — or a regular newborn

And now I’ve blinked and somehow find myself here, 22 years later. With this most amazing and remarkable girl who may have started her life with an uphill climb, but who has now reached the summit. She’s an amazing, strong adult. Fully cooked (which is kind of ironic since she started out half-baked).
It’s often times unbelievable to me when I remember this story because it was such a fragile beginning to a life that, for the past 22 years, has been anything but.

Would I change this story if given a magic pill and a time machine? Of course I would. Of course I’d make it so that she got to finish developing naturally instead of with the help of tubes and IVs and medicines; so that I’d get to hold my baby and cry tears of joy instead of tears of fear.
But if doing that would somehow make the fates change exactly who she was and the incredible person she’s turned out to be?
Not a chance.

They say everything happens for a reason. And if having to have had a real live Cabbage Patch Kid for awhile was part of the deal for the daughter I got?
I’ll take it.

Photo Oct 17, 8 22 13 AM

*This post originally appeared on YMFT in 2013

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  1. Lara on October 23, 2017 at 11:15 am

    What a wonderful story. My son was born six weeks early due to preeclampsia, and I had to have an emergency C-section. He was only in the hospital for three weeks (learning to suck/swallow/breathe), but the scrubbing and the watching and the waiting was the worst. He wasn’t as small as your daughter, but he seemed tiny to me, and the fact that he had to lay in a box and not in my arms was horrifying.

    Now he’s 14, and into skateboarding and video games and drawing, and you’d never know he struggled. But sometimes I’ll smell a certain soap, and it will take me RIGHT back to that scrubbing room. Or I’ll hear a song that I sang to him in the NICU (“Baby Mine” from Dumbo is a particularly rough one), and I’ll see that little 4 lb bundle of blankets and wires again.

    Happy birthday to your little bird.

    • Michelle on November 26, 2017 at 10:50 am

      Sorry for the delayed response, but I somehow just saw your wonderful comment, and oh, my, do I know what you mean! For me it is the song “As I lay me down” by Sophie B. Hawkins. It seemed to ALWAYS be playing when I was spending my days in the NICU back in 1995. Ironically, “Baby Mine” is the song I sang to her every night until she was about 8 years old! So happy to know your son thrived. Aren’t they amazing? Thanks again for chiming in. xo

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