That’s right, we’re skipping right over L.  L was supposed to be for Late Pregnancy.  The post in which I told you about how pregnancy was ticking along smoothly.  How mid to late pregnancy workouts were slow but enjoyable.

Alas, M is for Mason.  At 32 weeks and 6 days, Mason Thomas decided to make his entrance albeit it a bit early!

Something changed at 30 weeks.  I felt different.  Not the usual oppressive heaviness and fatigue that starts around week 32 – I just felt noticeably different.  Of course, I had just returned from 7 days in Disney with 8 of my in-laws and 6 children.  In the thick heat and humidity.  I wrote it off – I’m tired, delayed onset Disney fatigue.  But I distinctly remember thinking if I didn’t know any better, I’d think that I was about to have this baby.

At 32 weeks, I went to the OB/GYN to begin my weekly nonstress tests.  If my last 2 pregnancies were advanced maternal age, now that I was over 40 and having a baby – they considered me high risk and extremely geriatric!  Thus more monitoring.  I passed my first test as did baby.  They asked me if the baby was moving often and I noted – yes, but considerably less in the past week.  Something I had also told my husband who, like the nurse, shrugged it off – he’s getting bigger, less room for moving.

On July 6th, I went to bed.  But I didn’t go to sleep.  By morning, I had slept 2 hours, up the rest of the night in excruciating pain.  As embarrassing as this is to write, I have historically spared no journalistic shame!  The source of my pain?  Hemorrhoids!  Being pregnant and an Ironman athlete, I had dealt with these on and off through the years.  But now it was the weight of a baby, placenta and stress sitting on top of me – angry, inflamed and hurting oh so bad!

I moaned all night.  I felt nauseous.  I cried.  I considered going to the emergency room but then spooked myself by reading too many horror stories of impromptu emergency room hemorrhoid surgeries.  Because what else do you do up all night in pain – you read online forums!

The next morning, I called a local surgeon.  At first they said they had no appointments.  At this point tired, disagreeable and very pregnant, I said, if you don’t see me today, I am going to the emergency room.  And just like that they squeezed me in within the next 30 minutes.

There I sat waiting in the examining room for the doctor.  For whatever reason, I stood up – probably out of boredom! – and immediately felt something.  A gush of blood ripped through my shorts and down my leg.  Having gone through IVF, I was familiar with early pregnancy gushes of blood (many!) but never this late.  I called my OB/GYN who told me to go directly to labor and delivery.  Luckily, I was just around the corner from the hospital.  By the time I pulled up to the emergency room, my car looked like a crime scene!  I apologized to the valet and took a wheelchair ride to labor and delivery, at this point slightly freaking out and CRYING!

Once at triage, I could tell my water had broken and I was still bleeding everywhere.  The good news is that the baby’s heart rate was stable.  You’re experiencing contractions, do you feel those?  NO.  All I can feel is the damn pain in my rear end.  (this would be a recurring theme for the next few days!)

My doctor arrived within 20 minutes.  Her exam was foiled by copious amounts of blood.  She looked up and said to me, get anesthesia in here, this baby is coming out.  As she walked towards the door she said, where’s hubby?

(gulp) On his way.

Within 30 minutes I had been anesthetized and prepped for surgery.  Chris suited up for the operating room and moments later, Mason Thomas was born.  He weighed 4 lbs and 10 oz.  The doctor immediately commented that he was a good size.  And then followed up with – I’m no technician but there is a blood clot behind your placenta.  My placenta has ruptured – acutely.

It took a few days before we realized the high risk of the situation.  Placenta ruptures happen to one in every 100 pregnancies.  There are risk factors but most don’t even apply to me – I don’t smoke, drink excessively or do cocaine.  I wasn’t in a car accident nor did I experience a blow to my stomach.  However, I was over 35, on my third c-section and had a hormonally assisted pregnancy.  Those factors can put you at higher risk.   Nonetheless, this was an acute “freak” incident that could have ended very badly – in most cases, women don’t realize what is happening and the baby is deprived of oxygen.  Mason could have been stillborn, I could have hemorrhaged to death.  To think of what could have happened overshadowed the blessing of what did happen – we both made it.

Over the next few days, I went through typical c-section recovery. But it all moved much quicker.  Perhaps because I knew what to anticipate or muscle memory – I was walking by the next day, showered and fully dressed in normal Liz clothing, refusing pain medicine.  At one point, a nurse came into my room and said where’s the patient?  I’m here.  And you’re walking?  Clearly you do not know me!  By the end of my stay, I think I had convinced every nurse to get a Fit Bit and go shopping at Lululemon.

I’m not a fan of hospitals but honestly – I enjoyed my lovely 4 day stay in the hospital.  Seriously, folks, after spending the past 6 years caring for my two children it was a treat to be taken care of by other people!  The hardest part, though, was being apart from Mason.  Every few hours, I walked to the NICU, into a room of tubes to find an isolette with my newborn in it.  For the first week, this sight brought tears of unknown fear into my eyes.  I found myself emotionally overwhelmed with the complexity of the situation.  Not to mention the hormones of just having a baby!

After a few days, I went home and Mason stayed.  Over the next 5 weeks, I went to the hospital every day, sometimes twice a day.  I made it a point to get to know each nurse – to learn as much as possible about them and what was going on with my baby.  The NICU nurses were an amazingly caring and knowledgeable team.  They were a trusting mother to my child when I couldn’t be there, all hours of the day.  Each visit was a mixed bag of emotions, hand washings, wires and machines beeping or buzzing.  In the early days, I would be there to just put my hand into the isolette to hold his foot.  To deliver the milk I was pumping every 3 hours of the night and day (and – a tip here for new moms – RENT THE HOSPITAL GRADE PUMP!), to simply look at my son, longing to bring him home and being a mother to him.  Each day also brought with it the unknown of doctor updates, new medicines and procedures.  It became a waiting game of how much weight did he lose?  Gain?  What did his test results say?  But then there were the positive milestones – the day he was taken out of the isolette, the day the tubes were removed, his first bottle feeding, his first bath.

Having a baby in the NICU shakes up your life in so many ways.  Here I was, on my third child, thinking to myself I got this, I know what to do!  Now, I was being taught how to feed my baby by nurses.  After breastfeeding my other 2 children with no difficulty, I had a lactation consultant visit every few days.  I learned terms that no parent should ever need to know – what defines an “episode”, how to read the monitor when he “de-sats”, what is an NG tube.  I met with physical therapists, speech pathologists, neonatologists.  I thought I knew how to have a baby!  Just when you think you know everything, life intervenes to prove to you there is still so much more to learn.  Especially when it comes to patience.

Each day Mason thrived, grew and got closer to coming home.  The only thing holding him back was learning how to eat!  Who knew that babies didn’t develop the suck, swallow, breathe reflex until 36 weeks.  And even then, it’s touch and go.  Sometimes while eating they forget to breathe!  Until Mason had 4 days straight of no “episodes” (forgetting the breathe), he couldn’t come home.  Finally, after 5 weeks, he came home and he is doing what babies do best: eat, poop, sleep, repeat every 3 hours of the night and day.

As for me?  Recovery was much quicker this time around.  Perhaps muscles really do have memory.  After 17 days (yes, I counted them), I returned to swimming, biking and running.  Until then, there was lots and lots of walking.  I used what I learned from recovering after my other 2 pregnancies (and c-sections) to ease back into shape.  Swimming has felt great – I am back swimming in my old lane (though my old intervals are a little tighter than when I was in peak shape!).  I did a lot biking on my trainer when pregnant – even doing “structured” workouts through the end.  Getting back into biking has felt better than in past pregnancies.  I’ve started to incorporate some short intensity again.  The run?  Last time around I learned the value of patience with running.  After Mackenzie, I ran too hard too soon.  This time around I’m taking it slower.  The summer heat and humidity has me going so slow anyways!

A little over 7 weeks after baby, I participated in the sprint leg of a relay at the Chicago Triathlon.  Was I ready?  After a few weeks of panic training – sure, we’ll call that ready!  As I suited up in my wetsuit, looking at the cold, blue water of Lake Michigan, I got a little panicked – would I remember how to race?  Would I even want to race?  Where will I go when it gets hard and uncomfortable?  Will I settle?  Or out of fear will I just freeze?  As I got into the water, I put myself on autopilot and did what I would do in any other race – went to the front of the line, quieted my mind and waited.  The gun went off.  And just like any other race, anxious thoughts about the water, the intensity and my fitness started to infiltrate the moment.  But then something happened:  the competitive switch flipped and I got the urge to race.  To really go after it.  To sit on the edge of redline and settle, to hear myself breathing and get uncomfortable again.  I felt, if anything besides scared, ready to throw up and burning, relieved – because after a year I had found it again.  The desire to compete.  It was still in there.

And now the real race begins: life with 3 children!