Friday, April 15, 2011

Happy Birthday. Er, Happy Homecoming

Today was supposed to be my birthday.  It's not, though.  My birthday is in January. I decided to come into my parents' lives 13 weeks early. Every January 17th, my parents recall the story of my birth and I am reminded of it once again in the middle of April.
My arrival into the world was certainly unexpected.  Nothing was prepared.  The day I decided to enter the world was the coldest day of the year.  It was so cold that the car engine would not start.  Dad had to push the car out of the way in order to get another car to drive my mom to the hospital.  He pushed so hard in the freezing weather that he ended up with frostbite on both of his hands.  The frostbite required medical attention, but my dad was not able to receive treatment at the hospital where I was being delivered.  I was born at Columbia Hospital for Women, so because my dad is not a woman he was refused treatment.  My mom would try to squeeze his hand during her natural labor. She wasn't allowed to have drugs because the doctors were not sure if I would live through the birth and didn't want anything to interfere. My birth caused pain for both of them thanks to the huge blisters covering both of my dad's hands.
I was born at 2:56pm, weighing 2 pounds, was long, skinny and covered in hair all over my body.  I looked so foreign that as soon as the doctors presented me to my parents my mom commented "Oh my God, I gave birth to a monkey!"  My dad had a puzzled look on his face thinking he had NEVER seen a baby that looked like that!  Thankfully, the doctors explained that babies grow hair all over their body while in utero and I hadn't stayed in long enough to lose any of it.  They assured mom and dad though, that if I lived, I would lose it over time.
My parents explain that the day of my birth was not a celebration but a nightmare.  Nobody was sure that I would live and a name had not been picked out for me.  Shortly after my birth, Dad had to rush off to another hospital to be treated for his frostbite.  When he returned, the two of them watched TV trying to distract themselves from the fact that they might not leave the hospital with a live baby.  My parents asked a pastor to come and give me last rights, but he refused.  He had faith that I would make it, so my parents had to name me.  Television played a large role in the two of them coming up with a suitable name.  The news had just reported that Jessica Savage, a reporter, had driven off a cliff, straight to her death.
"Jessica, that's a nice name." they thought.  Following the news, came the comedy "Facts of Life".  One of the main characters was named Blair.  And, voila! There was my name:  Jessica Blair.  I had a name, but the nightmare that was my birth continued for the next 13 weeks.
I spent the majority of my time in an incubator trying to develop, get strong, and fight for life.  My lungs were not developed like they should be and they kept closing. Oxygen became my best friend, but it didn't always keep me out of the woods.  The doctors determined that in order for me to be in stable condition and to keep from "crashing", they had to give me a drug.  If I was not administered the drug, I would surely die.  However, the drug had side effects.  If I showed one sign of distress (like a cry), I would have a bleed in my brain, otherwise known as a stroke in a baby.  I was a baby, so of course, I cried.  My outburst caused me to have a stroke which later resulted in my cerebral palsy.
My parents spent so much time in the hospital that they received the employee discount in the cafeteria. Once there was more certainty that I would live, Dad would leave to go prepare my nursery for me.  Thank goodness I stayed in the hospital for 3 months because my extended stay gave him time to get everything ready for me at home.
My family also became friends with another family of a little boy born early.  His name was Little Ed.  When Ed was born you could see straight through his skin.  Doctors were able to visibly see all of his organs.  Since Ed and I were so small, the hat babies are normally given right after birth to keep them warm did not fit our heads.  Nurses advised Ed's mom to use an egg as model for his cap and a clementine as a model for mine.  She made hats for us so we could keep warm during our "free" time outside of the incubators.  After 13 weeks, I was strong enough and able to go home with my family.
Time out on parole.  No incubator.  Time with Mom and Dad

This didn't scan in the best but I spent the majority of my first three months in this incubator.

Would you please stop checking on me?  WHAT are you looking at?

April 15 was supposed to be my due date, but it is now known as my homecoming.  This is because my due date was the day I was released to enjoy life with my family outside of a sterile environment.  Every January 17 is a bittersweet day for my parents.  If you know me, you know how much I absolutely love birthdays (mine and those of my friends and family)!  I will proudly proclaim starting New Year's Day that my birthday is coming up soon.  There is always a big celebration, but I am always reminded of the underlying nightmare of that day in 1982.  Every January 17, my parents and I reflect and it becomes "Happy Birthday!  Thank God you are ALIVE day!"  It truly is a miracle that I am alive.  It is a day to praise God and to celebrate!  I try to celebrate my homecoming every year, but it has not worked for the last 29 years.  Maybe one day...
Little Ed and I were reunited a few years ago.  We hadn't seen each other since we were babies.  His skin is thick enough to cover all of his organs and you would never know the trauma he went through at birth.  Interestingly enough, he is engaged to a wonderful woman who is in a wheelchair.  She has cerebral palsy.  He is truly an amazing person in the way that he cares for and loves her.  I was thrilled to reunite with Ed and to meet Kelly.

I truly am thankful to be alive.  I think I came 13 weeks early because I was so excited to get a jump start on the adventure that is life!  I have never been one to miss out on the fun.  Not to mention, I am a little claustrophobic so staying in the womb for 40 weeks just wasn't going to work for me. God has blessed me in many ways and I look forward to what the future holds.  Right now,  I am going to eat a cupcake s'mores to celebrate my homecoming!


  1. Jess, I love you so much, and I am SO glad that you were born, that you lived, and that you came home! I'm going to celebrate you today, too!

  2. Thanks Karen! I really would like to see you soon. Perhaps a trip to Boulder is in my future.


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