My three year old daughter, Rebecca Jane, came into this world with both arms swinging. Literally.
To say that Becca was a surprise is an understatement. To suggest that she was a miracle may be an overstatement – but to her father and me I’d say it sounds just about right. After eight years of waiting and wondering, the hope of adding to our family was something I was struggling to let go of but for the peace of mind I’d decided I needed to do it. And then, of course, right on cue – it happened.
I spent those 9 months mostly scared that I would lose her. Worried that, at my age, something would go wrong. The fear was so intense that my body shook uncontrollably at the first ultrasound confirming the pregnancy; I was convinced that she wouldn’t be there, that my body had played a terrible trick on me. But she was there for sure, her heart beating like a champ. And at every visit thereafter we checked, and that strong beat-beat-beat just got stronger. The prenatal tests, offered to pregnant ladies “of a certain age,” all came back normal. This was really happening. And every prayer was being answered along the way.
Around the 8th month we took a trip to Walt Disney World. (A lady who is 8 months pregnant only goes to Disney World when she booked the trip long before discovering she would be 8 months pregnant when she got there.) The trip was fine, even as fun as it could be under the circumstances, but it was a turning point because at about that same time my body started making a little too much amniotic fluid. Not the biggest deal, really – and certainly better than not making enough – but because of this little Becca Jane had quite the swimming pool to play around in. And boy did she, because every week we would come in for our 9th month visits and every week she had moved to a new position. Instead of settling in for her move-out date Miss Bex decided she liked acrobatics and so, because we didn’t know how she’d present when I went into labor, a c-section became the safest choice.
I’d had a c-section with my oldest child, too, and so the thought of it didn’t scare me. It was a little weird scheduling my baby’s birth, but I was OK with it. (Actually, the control freak in me loved it.) The day arrived, we headed to the hospital and after an oddly unceremonial admission I found myself in the surgical suite succumbing to anesthesia-induced vomiting but still so amazed that I was really going to be holding this little miracle in just a few short minutes.
But it wasn’t a few short minutes. Becca’s acrobatics never let up and the two OBs who were there for the delivery (you get two when you are old and have a gymnast living in your belly) struggled to bring her safely into the world. If you’ve never had a c-section you might not know this, but the truth is that at that time you are absolutely the least important thing in the room. With the exception of the anesthesiologist, every last set of eyes is focused on that open belly and the little life that is about to emerge from it. At some point between the waves of nausea I realized that we had been there for an awfully long time, and that the conversation between the husband and wife team that was delivering my child wasn’t as light-hearted as usual. After the fact Rob would tell me that Becca did so many flips and flops during the surgery that they had to push her back into my uterus, because you don’t deliver babies hands-first. Or butts first, or feet first if you can help it. But finally she arrived. Icky and furious, just like healthy babies do. But here at last – healthy and miraculously ours.
The problems started later that day. At some point her breathing became labored; my sister and mother-in-law, both retired nurses, told me a few weeks after she was home that they saw the chest retractions in the nursery and knew something was wrong. The NICU team was called down to check on her a couple of times; eventually they took her away. A doctor came in the middle of the night to tell us what was happening and what they were going to do; at some point there was talk of an n-g tube, a thin tube used to feed babies who aren’t well enough to eat safely on their own. I was stuck in my room, still vomiting from the anesthesia. Rob bounced back and forth between the floors, telling me what I needed to know and holding on to the things I didn’t need to know until I could process them later. The next day I finally got to go see her; 24 hours later I properly met my baby girl. I asked the nurse if I could hold her – my own baby. I cried when she picked her up and put her in my arms, a mix of happy and sad and scared tears. She had a splint on her arm and lots of lines to monitor her vitals and she was covered in bruises from the shoulders down, courtesy of her bumpy entry into the world. But she was beautiful to be sure.
Our NICU story isn’t all that dramatic. Becca had a small pneumothorax, a space between the lung and the chest wall that was filled with air. A couple of non-invasive treatments took care of this and her breathing improved. But her feeding wasn’t great and her monitors alarmed enough with low heart rates and oxygen desaturations that she bought herself a week-long stay in one of the pricier rooms at the hospital.
I went home, without her, three days after she was born. It was one of the saddest experiences I’ve ever had.
As NICU babies go Becca was a monster, born full term and with relatively minor medical issues. Not that I found this particularly comforting at the time, but as someone who sees medically complex and fragile infants at work, I knew she wasn’t in any imminent danger. This can’t be said for so many other families who spend weeks or even months in the NICU, becoming experts in medical jargon and managing tubes and leads and monitors – all the gear required to keep their children alive. I marvel at these parents. They are amazing.
Life at home with our newborn girl was relatively uneventful. We slept little; she cried a lot. The painful reflux subsided and her sweet disposition emerged. She had the cutest little toes, and cheeks for days. She loved her swing. She cooed and smiled and rolled over; she mastered the spoon and her cheeks got chubbier. She and the dog engaged in a mutual love affair. My first-born became the Best Big Sister, Ever. The dream really had come true.