By Jodi Klaristenfeld
I do not remember much about January 16th 2019. I do know that it is the day my life changed forever. January 16this the day I became a mom – three months earlier than expected.
Becoming a mom had been the “missing piece” of my life. I had always known I wanted to become a mom. Even as I aged into my forties, I did not give up hope; I had faith that one day I would become just that. Discovering I was pregnant after several failed IVF attempts and beginning the path to surrogacy or adoption was a complete surprise and my dream come true.
I did not gain much weight during my pregnancy and did not really suffer from nausea or other maladies which befall many mothers to be. I felt I was blessed with the perfect pregnancy – I was wrong.
At around my six-month mark I experienced a “miraculous” twenty-pound weight gain (in five days). My vision started blurring and I began to see spots. My urine turned orange. I did not really worry until I became too dizzy to walk. My husband was in Europe for business and I was lucky my mom had come to visit me to prepare for the arrival of my child – in three months. She sensed something was very wrong and dragged me to my OB.
My doctor took my blood pressure, 190/140, asked about my symptoms, and said, matter of factly, “ok, let’s go get your baby out.” The rest was a blur. Ten minutes later I was in the hospital, and two hours after my daughter was born. I did not find out until a couple of days later that I had been suffering from a HELLP syndrome, a very rare and often deadly form of preeclampsia. Had the doctor not delivered my baby immediately, neither she nor I would have made it through the night. In fact, I later found out that my amazing angel of a doctor had to ask my mother who to choose to live, my daughter or me and if he needed to give me a hysterectomy on the off chance my blood wouldn’t clot due to my platelet levels, could he do so?
I was so ill I was not allowed to meet Jenna until two days after her delivery. I was sick, scared, confused and anxious to say the least. What would I find? What was she like? Would I be strong enough to hold her? Will she like me? Millions of questions and concerns came into my head, but nothing could prepare me for those first moments walking into the NICU. I saw her in the isolette looking so beautiful and tiny (a mere 2 pounds 2 ounces), with her name in pink, purple and turquoise. She had tubes and pic lines in places where babies should not have tubes. She was all bundled yet so exposed for everyone in the NICU to see. There were bells, whistles, machines, lots of nurses and doctors, and other parents.
I got up close to look, I smiled and then burst into tears. Tears of joy and happiness and, yes, fear and trepidation. My husband and one of the nurses placed her on my chest and I enveloped her in my arms. Unfortunately, I cannot remember anything else. I so very much wish I could remember more from first meeting her and I’ll forever be searching for it in my mind, my thoughts and my feelings.
The very next morning, I had these awful thoughts. Why didn’t I feel bonded to my baby? Where was that “motherly instinct” that everyone said would happen from the moment I met her? Was something wrong with me? Was this a symptom postpartum depression? The answer, while quite simple, is very common; No, I was not having postpartum depression, and yes, the fact that I was asking about the special bond between a mother and child was exemplary of how I did have that instinct. What I didn’t realize, nor what I did not for a second consider, was that I had gone through a terrifying experience in and of itself, aside from perhaps the most joyous event in life by welcoming a baby into the world. As mother’s we don’t give ourselves enough credit. We are so hard on ourselves and too easily blaming ourselves for shortcomings or failures rather than cutting ourselves some slack.
Only days later while both my daughter and I were both in the hospital, did I begin to understand what had happened. I am still not fully aware of all the details as I write, and that is quite fine for me. For what I have learned is not only traumatic, but also miraculous. Miraculous for a whole host of reasons, but perhaps most importantly because years later, thankfully and gratefully, we are all okay. My daughter is a beautiful, smiley, spunky and smart toddler, and because of her and the way she came into this world, I have found a new purpose in life.
Jodi Klaristenfeld is wife and mom to a beautiful 2 year old girl. She runs her family business and as a result of her daughter’s birth, she is pursuing a new career centered around advocacy for preemie children and their parents. Jodi and her family live in NYC.