It was 1981. I was 35 weeks pregnant, at home enjoying a fun episode of The Love Boat. Suddenly I felt powerful contractions, while the ship’s bartender was belting out a song trying to court a talent scout. My enjoyment turned to foreboding. I had an undeniable feeling in my gut that the baby was coming, very soon. But it wasn’t time.
I had never even considered the possibility of not going full-term to 40 weeks. Everything until then had been going along so smoothly. I was frightened. Even though 35 weeks is not extremely early, I had a sense of foreboding. In fact, by the time we got to the hospital and they were pushing me down the maternity ward corridor in a wheelchair I was crying. “Something’s wrong,” I sobbed, “Something’s wrong. It’s not time!”
Michele, our beautiful baby girl, was born that night with “multiple congenital anomalies.” They included her smallness—she weighed just over three pounds, very small for a 35-week baby; a bent nose, twisting to the left; and tiny ears. Some other anomalies and issues such as hearing impairment would be addressed as time went on. A team of doctors came and put her onto a gurney loaded with monitors and wires and rushed her to intensive care. The team leader came to my room later and, in a voice filled with compassion, told me and Michele’s father they weren’t sure she would live through the night. We were frightened, hoping desperately that she would. We already loved her deeply.
I didn’t see Michele until more than 24 hours after she was born, because specialists were in and out of her IC room all that time, filing in and out, examining her intently.
It turned out I was mistaken to be upset about the earliness of Michele’s birth. I’m convinced she had reached an instinctual decision in my womb to come out early. And that was exactly the right thing. It turned out that she had cranial synostosis: her skull plates had fused prematurely in my womb. They’re supposed to be detached from each other for a few years after birth, to allow the brain and features to expand as the baby grows. The neurosurgeon told us later that if she hadn’t had corrective surgery by the time she was 38 in-womb weeks (two weeks “early”) there would almost certainly have been severe brain damage. Being born at 35 weeks gave her three weeks of beneficial out-of-womb nutrition and growth before the surgery. If she had been born at the “right” time, at 40 weeks by conventional medical wisdom, she would have been brain-damaged.
So, right from the get-go, Michele was wiser than I was. She knew things I didn’t. I shouldn’t have been afraid about her birth being early, I should have been reassured. I shouldn’t have been crying in my wheelchair about something being wrong, I should have been cheering—yelling “You go girl!”
Michele’s time of arrival in the world was miraculously right. Since then she’s had her share of challenges, undergoing many surgeries since that first one in early infancy until she was 20. Much has been corrected, aesthetically and otherwise. Today she’s married, a college graduate, a lover of life, independent, intelligent, compassionate, creative, energetic, beautiful…and, I might add, punctual. She’s never late. I could go on singing her praises but I’ll stop here.
I’ve come to realize it’s silly to worry about her, because she knows what she wants and she knows what to do to get it. Just like she knew, nestled in my womb, exactly when to be born so she could have her surgery on time.