I’ve been pretty vocal the past two years about all of the events surrounding Gracie’s birth. Writing about that whole experience (ongoing and past tense) has been cathartic for me, helpful in releasing the tension and anxiety I’ve felt navigating our second daughter’s medical world while still adjusting to a great motherhood experience with two, normal, happy, sweet, kids.
But something I haven’t spent time writing about are the events surrounding Lilly’s birth. Even now, when I think of Grace in the NICU, the first image I see is the NICU where not Grace but Lilly spent 4 days of her brand new life. In the same regard, the first feelings I feel are the tightness in my chest that I felt when it was Lilly laying on an ER table getting a spinal tap at barely 4 days old. I don’t even think I could breathe. For the first installment of #NakedMoms I’m revisiting what those days were like for us and the things I discovered along the way.
I sat on the edge of the couch, the whole afternoon of that fourth day, trying to nurse my new, swaddled, sweet-smelling baby. My parents had gone back to Philly, Brandon was back in the office, and I was tired and so uncomfortable from a painful episiotemy. But the worst part was that nursing hurt like I never knew it would. I kept glancing at the cable box clock, hoping not enough time had passed for me to have to nurse again, waiting for Lilly to cry to signal she was hungry. Eventually too much time had passed and not a peep escaped her cute little mouth. For an entire Law and Order episode I reveled in the quiet and said a silent prayer of thanks that I didn’t have to try and nurse again yet. Should I wake her up? Should I let her sleep? Should I sleep? I tried to lean back into the couch cushions and close my eyes for a moment but sleep wouldn’t come.
I adjusted the cushions and the boppy pillow and the coffee table. I slid Lilly into position and tried to nudge her to latch on without doing anything too upsetting. She sighed a little sigh and kept sleeping. I gently lifted her to my face and kissed her tiny nose, asking her to wake up and eat. Her little head hung down and rested on my forehead but she didn’t open her eyes. Reluctantly, I hoisted myself up and shuffled over to the pack-and-play to change her diaper, rile her up. But she slept and slept and as I zipped up her cute little onesie sleeper, she nestled right back in to sleep. Now I was anxious.
I sat down with her again and kept trying to nurse her. At this point I was crying, not for fear for her health, but because I just couldn’t figure it out. How do you get a sleeping baby to nurse? Why did my nipples hurt so badly? Is this how it’ll be forever? I wished my Mom was with me.
Could I bother Brandon at work? Two or three or maybe even four more episodes of Law and Order had played on the TV to my right. I didn’t even notice at the time, but I remember rocking back and forth like that might wake Lilly up, or keep her sleeping. Which was better? What should I do? I finally called Brandon in tears telling him I couldn’t wake Lilly up. We hung up the phone and I called the Pediatrician who firmly told me to go NOW to the ER, that she would call them right now and tell them we were on our way. I packed my sleeping bundle up in her little pink covered carseat and put shoes on my feet. I was wearing the same nursing pajamas I had been wearing since before I left the hospital. Threw a coat on top of that and got in the car. After Brandon was with me, I’m not sure we even said anything to each other. We were exhausted and worried but not even sure what to worry about. The Children’s Hospital ER staff took us back to a room right away and wasted no time hooking Lilly up to every monitor in the room. The nurses smiled sweetly but every needle that went into our babies arms without causing her to make a peep made me more and more panicked. I tried not to look at Brandon because I knew he was looking at me. Waiting for me to signal if everything would be ok.
So many lights were beeping all the time, but at some point, people rushed into our room and checked the monitors and checked Lilly’s breathing manually with a stethoscope. Shortly after getting to the hospital, Brandon’s Mom came and was sitting with us, too. Lilly wasn’t moving, just laying on such a huge bed, unnecessary bed rails pulled up on each side. We were holding her little hands and stroking any uncovered skin we could find. I left Lilly’s room and slipped through the maze of hallways. I called my Mom and Dad, calm still, telling them where we were. I needed help finding our room again. We sat in silence just staring at the baby on the bed.
When a doctor finally came in (I will never forget this Man’s Face), I literally don’t think I was able to pull a breathe. He quietly, and very calmly, told us that Lilly’s dropping respiratory rate and dropping heart rate were indicative of Meningitis. That they were going to do a spinal tap. That they were admitting her to the NICU. I swallowed a sob and walked out of the room. I found my spot again and dialed my Mom, sobbing. In my head and my heart at the same time, I was seeing neon signs flashing: Meningitis = Death. Doesn’t it? Does it? Tell me, Mom, please tell me. Please come, Mom. We were really crying.
I think Brandon left when they did the spinal tap- he couldn’t watch that happen to his baby. I later learned that he got in the car, maybe went to go get some clothes or phone chargers or something, and that that drive was maybe one of the most emotional times of his life. He wasn’t entirely sure what Meningitis was, but was scared that I was scared and was feeling the same desperate love for that baby that I was.
There were three nurses and a doctor in the room for the spinal tap. One nurse gently held Lilly’s hands and arms and the other was holding her little feet. They had sugar water ready to dip her paci in when she cried. But they might as well not have even been there because Lilly didn’t even flinch. She just kept sleeping and sleeping. During that time my milk magically came in as I never knew it would, and turned my soft breasts into boulders. My pajamas were sopping and wet and I wasn’t sure what to do. I found the nicest nurse we had met and asked her what I should do. At the same time I could feel giant clots of blood sliding from my uterus down into the pad I had on, and I was sick to my stomach.
This sweet nurse led me to a Nursing Mother’s Room I can only describe as a bathroom, but instead of cold, tiled toilet stalls, there were rows of curtained rooms, designed for privacy, each one with a hospital grade breast pump, rocking chair, privacy curtain and sink. I cried when I told the nurse I didn’t know what to do with the pump. Because she was a nurse (I guess) but more because she was wonderful, she hugged me first, then gave me a quick run down on what to do with the pump. She let me get set up and waited outside the curtain for me to start, asking if I was ok. Embarrassed and in pain, I told her I was fine in between tears and she left. But she soon returned with two water bottles and a package of Keebler chocolate chip cookies. She told me to drink both and eat the cookies and she’d check on Lilly for me. I wasn’t surprised, but cried harder, when she came back and told me Lilly was still sleeping soundly in Daddy’s arms. I wish I remembered her name but I don’t.
It took a long time to speak to a doctor after that. Brandon was back, and he, his Mom and I were allowed to hold Lilly and hug her and love her. I thought time had stopped when they eventually moved us up to a shared NICU room. Was it still nighttime? There was a bed and a rocking chair and a view of the city we love so much. The clock on the incubator bed told me it wasn’t even midnight. We watched helpless as all of the wires, tubes, and cords were disconnected from the traveling apparatice they moved Lilly with, and rerouted to join the machines in this new room. I think I held my breath, feeling as though all of the tendrils that were attached to her were somehow keeping her with us. Eventually she was snug as a bug again in the new bed. I took up residence in the rocking chair and had Brandon hand her to me. She still wouldn’t nurse but I was pumping and trying half ounce by half ounce to get her to suck on a bottle.
When my Mom finally made it in from Philly to Pittsburgh, and was escorted up through the maze of hospital halls and into the NICU, I think I breathed the full volume of my lungs for the first time in 24 hours. Her words fell into my heart. That I had to truly Let Go and Let God. And I did. I gave up in the best sense of the word. The biggest blessing I could have had at the moment was to have my own Mother with me, as I navigated the hell of actually being a Mom for the first days of my life. I was so scared but hearing my Mother tell me that this WAS motherhood, all the time, for the rest of my life, was soothing. The journey I was just beginning would be full of sickening worry, panic, pain, and anxiety. That your children are so so precious, and because of that every misstep feels like this. The tightening in your heart, the inability to breathe, the tears. I relinquished control and counted on God to guide Lilly’s doctor’s heads and hearts to help my baby.
The spinal tap culture or whatever test we were waiting on took a full 72 hours to give conclusive results. The NICU team felt it was in Lilly’s best interests to start a course of viral antibiotics in the meantime as a safeguard if the meningitis culture did come back positive. We waiting. I pumped. We rocked Lilly in shifts. My Mom learned how to change Lilly’s diaper without bothering any of the NICU wires. Brandon and I left once to shower. Lilly’s stats were stable for those few days. Her respiratory rate and heart rate stopped dropping. One of the nurses sent in a lactation consultant to help me with the pain and problems of nursing. I discovered the blessed nipple shield.
On the morning of the fourth day, we got the news that the meningitis culture was negative. Lilly had been severely dehydrated and would be completely fine. They held her for another night, just to make sure, but released us to go home the following morning. I literally felt like I had walked through a parenting test, a hellish obstacle course to measure my worthiness of mothering this little angle baby I had labored to birth. The anti climactic end of our NICU stay made us all laugh awkwardly and hug our little baby like she was exasperatingly melo-dramatic already. From birth.
Giving up control in that hospital was freeing for me. I have a mental image of throwing my hands in the air and yelling to God that I get it. I’m not in control. I never was and never will be. That I’m blessed to have a slice of my life dedicated to watching over this gift from heaven.
We didn’t know we’d go through this again. The pain and the worry. Nor did we realize the preparation that first NICU stay had blessed us with.
But for go-round number two, God was already in control, and we knew we were already blessed.
**I am honored to be writing this post in conjunction with 12 wonderfully talented writers willing to share their nitty gritty thoughts on motherhood. Each month we interpret a common theme and share our work with you via the hashtag #NakedMoms. We aren’t actually naked 😉 (sorry!) but we are bearing our souls here on our blogs. Kind or constructive (even argumentative or opinionated!) comments are always appreciated but negative or hurtful ones need not be expressed here. We are in the business of lifting up and supporting other women with our writing as we weave a web of stories and anecdotes from our past, present and future Mommy selves. We hope you enjoy the series and share the stories you love with your own circle of Mom’s- whomever they may be. Thank you from the bottom of my heart for reading.**
All January posts from the #NakedMoms are linked below. Grab your mug and get ready to enjoy some great reads. Thanks ladies!
To Be a Better Mom You Have to Give Up by Steph at Confessions of A Stay-At-Home Mom
I Am A Recovering Perfectionist by Thien-Kim at I’m Not The Nanny
Giving Up On Perfect Single Motherhood by Laila at Only Laila
The Time I Almost Gave Up on Motherhood by Vaneese at Mommy Works A Lot
Motherhood: The Sacrifices No One Tells You About, But You Need to Know by Joyce at Mommy Talk Show
To Let Go and Let God by Jacquie at The Sweeter Side of Mommyhood
I Didn’t Want to be a Mom by Summer at The Dirty Floor Diaries
Mothering While Introverted by Diamonte at Liberated Mommy
Motherhood is About Giving Up by Jessica at A Parent in America
Motherhood: I Give Up by Stephanie at When Crazy Meets Exhaustion
Giving Up Supposed To Be by Brandi at Mama Knows It All
Giving Up And Getting Down by Heather at Diary of A First Time Mom