Megan Davies Mennes wrote about her reactions to her son’s prenatal Down syndrome diagnosis last October on Offbeat Families — here’s Quinn’s birth story!
On Monday afternoon, December 17th, our son Quinn made that apparent with his early and unexpectedly quick arrival. Readers might remember my previous post about our son’s prenatal Down syndrome diagnosis. We had come to terms with Quinn’s condition and were anxious to meet the little guy, but not quite so soon, especially since we had spent most of the pregnancy facing numerous health scares. Our many doctors told us that our son’s health would depend on his arrival: the later he was born, the better. Since my first son arrived two weeks early, I repeatedly told this guy to stay put and crossed my fingers that he would listen. But in a rebellious fashion that mirrors my own, Quinn decided to do things on his own time.
Just when I thought I would be pregnant forever (even though I was only 35 weeks along), I woke up at around 2am with a pretty intense, but short-lived contraction. I know that this tends to happen toward the end of pregnancy, so I ignored it and fell back asleep, but this continued for most of the evening. At around 5am, I decided to get up, take a shower, and start timing the duration and frequency of the contractions.
They hurt, but there was absolutely no pattern to them at all. Most labor and delivery rooms have a strict policy that laboring women are not admitted until their contractions are 4-5 minutes apart and at least 60 seconds long. I was nowhere near there, so I decided to head into work. I needed to help my students prepare for their finals and, after laboring with my oldest, Atticus, for 19 hours before any real progress was made, I felt like I had time even if this was the real thing.
At work, I had a few more contractions, but they were irregular and infrequent, despite their intensity. My students would notice me pause and grimace occasionally, and a few made jokes that they weren’t fully qualified to deliver a baby. I laughed it off and told them that it’s not like the movies and labor doesn’t happen that quickly.
Nevertheless, I put in a call to my doctor. She told me what I was suspecting: it was likely prodromal, or false labor, but she wanted me to come in and be monitored to make sure that the baby and I weren’t in any distress. I figured I’d be slapped with an order for bedrest and a prescription to assist with the pain. I called in for a sub, hopped in the car, and drove to the hospital to see my doctor, texting my husband, Brian, along the way to let him know what was going on.
When I made it to the doctor’s office, the contractions became pretty frequent and painful. My OB/GYN wasn’t in the office that day, but another doctor in the practice came in to check on me. The look she gave me was one I’ll never forget: it was a mixture of shock, urgency, and a how-the-hell-did-you-not-realize-you-were-in-labor? I was almost fully dilated and the baby was coming. Soon. They ordered a wheelchair to send me downstairs to labor and delivery and told me to call my husband and order him to hurry or he would miss it. When we got downstairs, the delivery room was already packed with a whole team, including the delivery doctor. Within the hour, Brian made it, I pushed a few times, and Quinton Robert Emil Mennes was born at just 35 weeks — over a month early.
How the hell did I manage to teach three classes that morning, drive myself to the hospital, and deliver a baby before lunch?
We spent most of the day in shock. How did this happen so quickly? How was he so healthy for being born so early, especially after such a terrifying pregnancy? How the hell did I manage to teach three classes that morning, drive myself to the hospital, and deliver a baby before lunch? We asked and attempted to answer these questions for hours, telling and retelling the story to anyone who would listen. It really was like the movies, and had I decided to stay and teach my fourth period (like I really wanted to), I probably would have delivered this baby in an ambulance or along the side of the road. Turns out our little dude was in a hurry to meet us.
Quinn did remarkably well given the circumstances. They ran virtually every test on him upon his birth and he passed most with flying colors. The day after he was born, he began receiving phototherapy for a touch of jaundice and was being monitored for irregular breathing patterns, both of which are common in preemies. But right before we were supposed to be discharged, the nursery pediatrician came in to let us know that he would be moved to the NICU because he had failed to get his jaundice and breathing under control.
Despite expecting a long NICU stay upon our little dude’s arrival, we were still pretty devastated. They suspected an infection and wanted to get him on antibiotics as soon as possible as a proactive measure. Infections and illnesses in newborns are serious business, especially in preemies and infants with Down syndrome.
Brian and I decided to spend that first night by our little guy’s side, trying to sleep on the painfully narrow bench (Brian slept on the floor) amidst the constant beeps and whirs of the machines in the room. Because Quinn was under the billi lights, the function of which was to break down the high billirubin that causes jaundice into smaller particles for his liver to process, he wasn’t allowed to eat or be swaddled.
Naturally, he wasn’t too thrilled about this prospect after spending the last eight months snuggled in the dark and quiet. So in addition to the machinery, we also were forced to endure his unhappy grunts and whines. Thankfully, our nurse Priscilla was amazing and took great care of all of us (looking back, I think we needed more from her than Quinn ever did). She was constantly reassuring and positive, patiently reminding us that, despite the wires and tubes sprouting from our dude’s body, he was in good shape and would be on the mend soon.
When we got home after that long first night, Atticus was beyond ecstatic. During all this time, he had been staying at our house with his grandparents, who took turns trying to convince him that Mommy and Daddy didn’t abandon him forever and would return soon. I don’t think he believed them until we walked in the door; his relief was palpable.
We spent the second night at home, knowing that a good night’s sleep would be more helpful to Quinn than sleep-deprived parents, but we went often to visit and feed him. He hadn’t mastered nursing yet and was having trouble sucking, swallowing, and breathing at the same time on either the bottle or breast. I was pumping as often as possible and stocking his little fridge in the NICU, but he wasn’t taking to eating too well, so they warned us this could delay his homecoming. At this point, he had been off the billi lights and his breathing had regulated, likely because he was swaddled and comfortable, but he was receiving his meals through a feeding tube.
On day three, we were told we could take him home. His cultures showed no signs of infection and he was getting a little better at eating. They wanted to be sure that I felt comfortable encouraging him to eat on his own and reminded me that if he still wasn’t eating at home, then he’d have to return to the hospital. I was confident that I could get him to eat and didn’t want him to spend a second longer in the NICU. Despite our confidence, we got an earful from our least-favorite nurse, K.
K. is one of those people who thinks she’s really funny, but is actually putting her foot in her mouth every time she speaks. As we were strapping Quinn into his car seat, she said, “I want to share some info with you about your little guy. He’s not the brightest bulb in the drawer. He’s lazy and very floppy, even floppier than his buddies. Make sure you feed him with the lights on so you can see his color. He has a tendency to choke on his food.”
What. the. hell. lady. You just told parents of a new baby with Down syndrome that he’s “not the brightest bulb in the drawer”?! Are you mad? Or just heartless? We were stunned. Floored. How does one even respond to that? I wanted to shout and make a scene, but we wanted to bring Quinn home more, so we held our tongues. We know we’ll face these attitudes throughout our son’s life, but we didn’t realize it would be so soon (or so obvious). We’ve spent the past few weeks marveling at how well he is eating, how strong he’s becoming, and how wrong K. was. We’ve decided that we will constantly strive to prove K. wrong… so far Quinn has been excellent at this.
Now that we’re home, it’s become a new kind of adventure. Now that the holidays have passed, the realities of caring for a newborn and an extremely jealous two-year-old have set in. Atticus manages to be wonderfully helpful one minute, bringing his brother a pacifier, blanket, or hat, then a complete terror the next. One of the first mornings home, he was so mad that I wouldn’t suddenly stop feeding the baby to play with him that he spent a few minutes in blind rage, throwing matchbox Lamborghinis at me and screaming at the top of his lungs.
Things have since settled and we’re enjoying every minute with our latest addition. We know we’ll face plenty more challenges as they years go on, but we’re so happy that Quinn is here and healthy. We’re ready to face this newest reality just like everything else in our busy lives: one day at a time.