When it comes to having babies, here are my numbers:
1 physical scar
Lots of emotional scars
Zero wheelchair rides out to my car while holding my carefully snuggled-in babe in the carseat.
When it comes to thinking about the way my children entered the world, and their first days here, I’m overwhelmed with emotions. On the short list of moments I would give anything to go back and re-live, the church doors opening while seeing my husband at the end of the aisle and hearing all of my babies’ cries for the first time would be at the very top. Nothing in my life will ever be sweeter than those four moments.
Walking into our home empty-handed knowing my baby(ies) are still in the hospital, hooked up to monitors and being taken care of by someone other than me? Not something I thought would happen once, twice, or certainly not with all three of my babies.
Every mom has a birth story for each of her babes. I’ve read countless amounts of them, even viewed a few birth videos set to beautiful, tear-jerking music. In all the ones I’ve read, by the end I’m usually a weepy mess. For the most part because there is nothing more incredible than witnessing those first few moments a mom meets her baby. And the other tears come from a place of deep sorrow. After hearing all three of our babies’ first cries, instead of staring into their precious faces, nursing, snuggling, and getting to know these tiny people of ours, they were swiftly taken away to the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit. And I was left alone. On an operating table. Praying for my babies I hadn’t held.
I was 35 weeks to the day that I had our girls. My blood pressure had started to creep higher and higher at one of my stress tests, and I was headed towards full blown pre-eclampsia. Since I was so close to full term, my doctor felt it was in all of our best interests to take the girls before any of us got any sicker. And maybe, if I was lucky, the girls might be healthy enough to avoid the NICU.
So after a night’s stay (with little sleep) in the hospital, scared to death and trying to wrap my head around the fact that instead of my usual daily routine of sleeping in and watching Oprah, my husband and I would actually be parents of two real live babies tomorrow.
And become parents we did. After a spinal block (not as painful as I had imagined), a quick anxiety attack (apparently I am claustrophobic and not cool with having zero sensation in 90% of my body), and an anesthesiologist who was ON IT with the happy drugs, our oldest daughter was born. It was the most exhilarating moment of my life. That perfect tiny face and dimpled chin like her daddy’s. I was a momma. Her sister was born less than a minute later. While my oldest was off to the transition nursery, little sister was headed to the NICU. In a tearful, blissful haze, my husband looked at me, panicked, and asked where he should go. Sensing our little four pounder on her way to the NICU seemed like the most urgent, I told him to go with her.
For the next few days before I would leave the hospital, although both girls had ended up being admitted to the NICU, I held onto hope that we would somehow get to leave the hospital as a family of four. But that wouldn’t happen for another 8 days.
There was nothing easy about the girls’ stay in the NICU. I cried more during those 8 days than the sum of my life to that point. Every morning when I would walk into their room, the tears would come. And every evening when I left, the tears felt like they would never stop.
But our girls did finally get to come home, and quickly grew to be healthy, happy, and squishy babies. Before we knew it, they were turning one. Transitioning to whole milk, giving up the bottle, it felt like we were emerging out of babyville and into toddlerhood. Little did we know a few weeks later, I would take a pregnancy test and find out we weren’t quite as far out of babyville as we had thought. Surprise! My thirteen month olds who were just getting the hang of walking were actually going to be big sisters in approximately nine months.
We were shocked, to say the least. After the initial trauma of envisioning our lives with three children under the age of two, we started to get excited about meeting this little one. Especially after finding out we would have a son. Our family would be complete.
When I had made it to 39 weeks, I was thrilled. A full-term baby! No NICU! Yes, our lives were going to be reality-TV-worthy once we got home, but I would get to deliver a healthy baby that got to sleep in my hospital room with me, swaddled snuggly and free of wires and tubes. We could stare into each others’ faces and get to know each other, nurse, show him off to our friends and family, and enjoy quality time together before we took him home to his sisters. My heart so desperately yearned for that experience.
After another C-section (and more happy drugs), our perfect son entered the world. A short time later, I was being wheeled out, holding my baby.
I was elated. One of my dearest friends got to be my nurse during and right after the delivery. From the OR, back to our room, I had noticed her level of concern grow. I quickly learned that when my son was pulled out, he took a big “gulp” of amniotic fluid. They had suctioned as much out as they could, but the wheezing sound he was making while trying to breathe wasn’t improving. I could tell by the look on her face that this wasn’t good. After a few minutes of our family meeting him and taking pictures, she told me she needed to take him for more observation. So we waited. And waited. Finally the phone call to my room came I had hoped would never come. My healthy, full term baby was being admitted to the NICU.
I lost it. After the tears stopped, I was taken aback by the emotions that followed. Perhaps it’s because my mama’s heart couldn’t bear any other outcome, but deep down, I knew my baby would be OK. The way his condition had been described to me was that it was just, plain and simply, bad luck. Most C-section babies aspirate a little amniotic fluid that vaginal babies normally have “squeezed out” via the birth canal. A small percentage breathe in a lot that isn’t able to be suctioned out, making the lungs weak. My son was in that small percentage. Bad luck.
I was angry. So incredibly angry. This was supposed to be my chance to experience those precious first hours of motherhood with my baby. To actually get the chance to be a mommy to my baby for his grand introduction into this world. To hear my voice, feel my one million kisses on his perfect, tiny cheeks. Change his tiny diapers. Dress him in his tiny, monogrammed clothes and beanies. To look at him in the middle of the night, completely in awe of his beauty and the gift we had just been given. And in one phone call, it was taken all away. Moments, hours, and what would turn into his first eleven days on earth, were stolen from me as his mother. And the sadness, fears, and worry had erupted into anger.
I still vividly remember the first time I was wheeled to see him in the NICU. My nurse had started to explain the procedures, the hand washing, and I stopped her before she could begin. “We’ve done this before. I remember.” The deafening quiet, the machines beeping, even the smell of the soap. Wasn’t it just yesterday we were here?
Today, my husband and I have three incredible children. As I look at them everyday, I am overwhelmed. They are healthy, happy, loved wildly, and thriving. Seeing their smiles, watching them jump, play, imagine, giggle, you would never guess they spent the first precious days and weeks of their lives in the intensive care unit, depending on machines and angel nurses and doctors sent straight from heaven to keep them alive.
Almost four years later, thinking about our experiences with the NICU still hurts my heart. I still yearn for that beautiful birth story worthy of being set to music and watched many years later with a heart full of nothing but love. That’s just not our story.
But someday, our children will learn about their first days on this earth. And although they weren’t spent in our home, together as a family, it will forever shape who they are, and who I am as their mother. They have all been fighters from the start. And whatever other obstacles they come across in life, I will know how to love them through it.