MELISSA BLOCK, Host:
This is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News. I'm Melissa Block.
MARY LOUISE KELLY, Host:
The book chronicles the trouble Stevenson had getting pregnant, the trouble she had staying pregnant and then the terrifying months her daughter spent in intensive care. And here's the twist: This is a very funny book.
BLOCK: The Story of My Nerves, My Newborn, and How We Both Learned to Breathe." Alexa Stevenson told me she was 22 weeks along, just past the halfway point in her high-risk pregnancy with twins, when things began to go very wrong. Doctors told her she had lost one of the babies.
ALEXA STEVENSON: They saw that my son's heart had stopped. It put the whole pregnancy at risk at that point. I was put on bed rest indefinitely.
LOUISE KELLY: You were carrying a boy and a girl.
LOUISE KELLY: And the little girl was still doing great, as far as they could tell.
STEVENSON: Yeah, as far as they could tell. I think there was still maybe nine or 10 days before she would have been viable outside the womb. I was already having some contractions and try to stave off premature labor as long as possible. And my water ended up breaking right at 24 weeks, and then I went into the hospital for some more bed rest there.
LOUISE KELLY: Now amazingly at this point in your pregnancy, you managed to retain a sense of humor, as you're in the hospital on bed rest. There's a passage I'd love to see if we could get you to read on page 96.
STEVENSON: Simone had another test and this time got full marks for breathing. The nurse got a good shot of her face, one where she looked like a real baby, instead of something out of Georgia O'Keefe's boney period.
LOUISE KELLY: How do you - I mean, how do you keep a sense of humor when you, A, are looking and presumably feeling terrible, and B, are at a very difficult point in a very difficult pregnancy?
STEVENSON: Humor gives you sort of distance. There's a distance necessary for humor, and it's somewhat protective. It helps you have perspective on the situation in a way that is harder to do when you aren't able to look at it through that lens.
LOUISE KELLY: Well, and I guess you needed all the humor and perspective that you could get for what was to come right after that. At 25 weeks into your pregnancy, your daughter Simone was born. And as you write it, you were like any new mom, relieved, I'm sure, and also just delighted and proud and maybe not quite comprehending yet how much danger she was in.
STEVENSON: Yes. At the time, I was just so deliriously happy. I'm sure some of it was hormones and, you know, large quantities of morphine.
LOUISE KELLY: It always is.
STEVENSON: But it was also, you know, I looked at the pictures of her from that day. I have all these Polaroids that now, I mean, to most people they're kind of horrifying pictures. She's wrapped in like a plastic bag to keep her warm, and her skin is all raw and bruised- looking, and she's on a ventilator. And I just thought she was the most adorable thing I'd ever seen.
LOUISE KELLY: Simone was a micro-preemie is the term you used. And she spent, was it about three months in intensive care?
STEVENSON: Yeah, three and a half months, about that.
LOUISE KELLY: Three and a half months. And while there, she went through, I mean, a terrifying list of complications: surgery to repair a hole in her heart and kidney failure and multiple blood transfusions. Was there a moment that stands out for you, Alexa Stevenson, when you had to look at your daughter and grapple with the knowledge that she might not make it?
STEVENSON: Yes. I'm not entirely sure what happened after the surgery, what went so very wrong. She was very sick and was put on a different ventilator, called the oscillator, which was a terrifying machine.
LOUISE KELLY: You write about it in all-caps, it so occupied your psyche.
STEVENSON: And that evening she was up to 100 percent oxygen and still no change. And I realized in this sudden, sort of visceral, physical way that she might die, not in like some hypothetical, future sense but within the next day or two. And it was horrifying.
LOUISE KELLY: She did turn the corner. Doctors started talking to you about when you're going to take her home. It must have been simultaneously such great news to hear but also kind of terrifying.
STEVENSON: Yes, I was very, very concerned about the lack of nurses at our house. And I obviously wanted to take her home but maybe also with a few of the nurses.
(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)
STEVENSON: That would have been I think an ideal arrangement.
LOUISE KELLY: I think all of us with newborns (unintelligible) that scenario.
(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)
LOUISE KELLY: I mean, as you describe yourself in this book, you were not a mellow person to begin with. You were prone to anxiety attacks about the little things in life. I mean, how does it change you to have been through something like this?
STEVENSON: I was really quite surprised. I would have expected, if I had been told that something like this was going to happen, that it would be the thing that pushed me from being, as you so kindly put it, not a mellow person, over the edge into just plastic-covered everything, and, you know.
BLOCK: organic foods and baby eating something off the floor and bathing, things like that. It just doesn't seem as important after all of that.
LOUISE KELLY: And Alexa, I wonder if you would read us out, if you would read to us the last paragraph of your book, on page 295.
STEVENSON: One day, Simone just took off, and she hasn't stopped since. You should see her go.
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