The alarm blared and I heaved my belly up and out of the bed in a hurry to shut it off. I hate waking up startled, but it’s the only thing that breaks through my husband’s thick sleep fog. We pulled on clothes, brushed our teeth, tucked toothbrushes into bags, and slipped out of the house into the dark of a super-early July morning.
At the hospital, the nurses couldn’t find some essential item of paperwork. I leaned against the counter, holding my belly with my hands, while they called my doctor.
Scott murmured, “Aren’t you glad I don’t have the kind of job where hospitals call you at home at 5:00 in the morning?”
I nodded. I wasn’t quite ready to make conversation. It was early, I was tired, and I was anxious about what the day held. I’d never been induced before, I’d never delivered in this hospital before, and I’d never known ahead of time that our baby would have trouble. This was it. The day we would find out how rough our youngest son’s road would be.
We’d learned of his birth defects 18 weeks prior at the prenatal echo. We had these for each baby since our first child had such profound life-threatening cardiac defects. But we all thought of these tests as additional reassurance, not as something that might uncover a real problem. The diagnosis was stunning. We couldn’t believe that we were, as one of my friends put it, “a double-whammy family.”
The doctors told us that if our son’s defects were on the mild end of the spectrum, they would do corrective surgery within a few days of his birth. If they were severe, he would need to wait and grow as much as possible before surgery.
The nurses had the paperwork they needed and motioned us to follow them. We were ushered into the only windowless labor and delivery room on the floor, but I didn’t care. I wouldn’t be looking out the window until he was born anyway. Friends and family visited throughout the morning as medicines dripped and muscles contracted. When the anesthesiologist came to put in the epidural, everyone headed to the waiting room, leaving Scott and I together to meet our son. The NICU team was busy with another delivery when my body began pushing without any help from me. My doctor and my nurse urged me not to push, as the nurse kept paging the team. This was my fourth delivery though, and my body was on auto-pilot. I could feel his head crowning despite the epidural and my deliberate lack of pushing. My mind was racing. What if he’s born before they arrive? I reminded myself that we wouldn’t cut the cord until they got there. He’d be fine until then.
Finally, the team poured into the room, I pushed once, he slipped out, and we got to hold him for a precious few seconds before handing him to the neonatologist to examine. Scott went with the team while my doctor and nurse stayed with me.
Awhile later, the neonatologist came to update me. “He’s doing great. He’s pink, stable, and breathing well on his own. We’ll transfer him to Children’s as soon as they have a bed available. We’ll bring him by to see you before they take him over.”
A few hours later, as the transport team wheeled our baby out in the incubator, Scott looked like a man torn in two. He wanted to be with me while I recovered, but he wanted to be with our newborn. I squeezed his hand. “I’ll be fine. I’m ready for this. You need to stay with our baby. Please. I want you to be with him. Call me from Children’s.”
He and my nurse helped me slide from the bed to a wheelchair to move to the postpartum unit, and then he left for Children’s. As I settled into my room for the night, alone, I thought about all the other women who’ve spent their recoveries alone, no baby and no father, for whatever reason. This is supposed to be a happy part of the hospital, but I realized that just made it all the more sad when a woman is there without her baby. I knew I’d recover alone, but being there made me realize how good it was for my mental and emotional health that I’d been able to prepare for it. As I tried to pump and later to sleep, I prayed for any other women there alone that night, without their babies.
Last night, as we were cleaning up birthday party leftovers, I heard my son talking to his Mamaw. “I wouldn’t want to end up in the hospital on my birthday,” he declared.
I couldn’t agree more.
Happy fifth birthday to my youngest son. You turned out to be a pistol, a handful, a rascal, a sweetheart, and super strong. Here’s to another year of antics, hilarious stories, and new discoveries.