Friday, September 17, 2004

Happy Birthday, Sweet Baby!

Today my little girl turned 3 years old. Though some of the details are beginning to fade from my mind, for the most part, I can remember the day she was born like it was yesterday.

It was a dark and stormy night. Really, it was. Rain everywhere. I awoke a little after 1 am as my water broke. Ladies and gentlemen, I was freaking out. I thought I was 37.5 weeks along. I awoke Gaylon, who was groggy until the words registered "MY WATER BROKE, WE NEED TO GO TO THE HOSPITAL." Then, he was out of bed like a man on fire.

We had started packing the hospital bag that week, so we were slightly prepared. For some reason, my nesting instinct told me to go to Sam's Club and buy a case of Gatorade and 867 different types of snacks. So we fired up the forklift and hauled our bounty to my 2-door sports car and jammed my "hospital necessity" collection into the trunk. The tires looked a little compressed by the time we finished, but what did we care? Our new bundle of joy would soon arrive!

During this time, I kept waiting for contractions, which never arrived. I was waiting, wondering what they would feel like and if I'd back out of my natural birth plan at the first sign of pain. We got to the hospital, got checked in, got assigned the the stereotypical mean nurse and began our wait. At our childbirth prep classes, we were told that we could make requests and do things our own way when we arrived at the hospital. Well, this nurse didn't give a crap what you heard in that class. You were going to do things her way or you could just go birth in a puddle on the street for all she cared. Under her command, I was unable to leave my bed. Not even for the rocking chair. Now I was pissed. She wasn't following my manifesto, I mean, my birth plan.

A few hours passed and the mean nurse was off shift. In came the nurse who all other nurses of the world should study under. She was a goddess in a white uniform. She freed me from my prison, otherwise known as the bed, and allowed me to try moving around to see if that would get Maya started on her exit. It didn't. The clock was ticking, thanks to my GBS+ test, so we started talking about drugs to get things going. Two hours after the meds, those contractions I had waited for were in high gear. I spent a good three hours after that in the jacuzzi in my room. I didn't want to get out, but eventually they made me. I rocked in a rocking chair, spent time on my knees using a birth ball and walked the halls a bit. Finally, I could move no more. I wanted to curl up in bed, so that's what I did. About an hour after that, Maya was born.

She was tiny. 5 pounds 14 ounces. I cringed when they first laid her on my chest because, let's face it, a newborn is kind of slimy, and I wasn't sure I wanted to hold her until after she'd had her spa treatment. I held her anyway. I remember thinking that it was awkward to hold a baby in the position I was laying, so I passed her to Gaylon, and later we let my sisters-in-law hold her, too. About that time, maybe an hour after she was born, a new nurse came in to check Maya over and admit her to the hospital. She noticed right away that Maya was bluer than she should be, and started giving her some oxygen. It didn't help, so she carted Maya off to the nursery for further observation.

The next time I held Maya, it was only for a few minutes, and she had to have the oxygen under her nose all the time. When I was done, they put her under an oxygen dome, which is really bizarre if you haven't seen one. It looked like her head was in Tupperware. I cried most of the night, worried about my baby, but was confident that all would work out well. As the night wore on, the doctors ran tests trying to see if she had an infection. She continued to decline in her ability to breathe. Monitors made seemingly endless high-pitched alerts. Just as one was shut off, another eeped out a new warning. They determined by morning that she was earlier than we thought and that her lungs were not fully developed. By this time, Maya's breathing was very labored. Her little chest heaved up and down with every breath. Sometime late that morning, as she struggled to breathe, one of her lungs collapsed. Her doctors were very concerned for her life. In between sobs, I begged God not to take this baby that I barely knew yet.

So, on the second day of her little life, she had emergency surgery, right there in the NICU, to insert a chest tube to reinflate her lung. I couldn't watch. Gaylon stayed with her. He says now that he will never forget just how strong our little girl is, because he saw the force used on her that day, and he knows if she can take that, she can take anything. I couldn't sit still and wait for the surgery to be done. I hovered near the NICU door. At one point I peeked inside, hoping they'd be done. They weren't. They were inserting an umbilical line, and I saw a stream of blood shoot out from Maya's tummy and land on the floor. The doctor noticed me standing there and tried to shuffle a towel over the blood with his foot. I'll always remember that image of him trying to minimize my trauma in that way. After the surgery, Maya got a surfactant treatment to unstick her lung surfaces. She began improving fairly shortly after that.

She'd been on this Earth for two days and I had only held her twice. Oh, but I knew her face by heart. I sat by her crib and watched her. She was so small, surrounded by equipment that sounded out a rhythmic, oddly reassuring lullaby. All of those hours looking down at her, I memorized every curve in her cheeks, the color of her mouth, the way her hair curled on top of her head.

She graduated from the ventilator to an oxygen tube under the nose about a week later. She hated that tube. In fact, she ripped it off of her face so many times that the nurses gave up on her with it. She was grateful enough to be free of the tube that she breathed remarkably well on her own at that point. She's been stubborn like her daddy right from the start. I think if she could have reached the bow the nurses glued to the top of her head, that would have been gone in an instant, too.

She was in the NICU for two weeks. I was there every day, going home only for a few hours sleep, a shower or a quick bite to eat. The funny thing about having a baby in NICU is that even though you know that baby is yours, it seems like she belongs to the nurses and doctors, too. I couldn't wait to take her home where she could really be mine. My heart broke when I saw other new moms carrying their new babies proudly to their cars, headed home with flowers and balloons and well wishes. Maya's flowers were long dead and the balloons sadly drooping by the time she came home. I bought her a new balloon, because I thought she deserved the fanfare.

Maya is still a tiny little thing. A chest tube scar on her chest and a barrage of tiny scars on her heels from the many blood tests are now the only outward reminders of her rough beginning. She runs and laughs and amazes me every day. I still long to hold her, only now it's because she won't sit still long enough for cuddling, unless she's desperately tired. So, happy birthday, my sweet baby. Your momma will never forget those first few days. The strangest things bring the memories flooding back: the smell of antibacterial handwash, the beeping of my computer, a doorbell that sounds like the door chime at the NICU. But that's OK, I don't intend to forget that time entirely. Those days taught me that you're precious and tough all at the same time, and I'll never take you for granted.


Liesl said...

This entry brought tears to my eyes. Beautiful, really beautiful.

Kelley said...

Way to make me cry, Heather!

Jen said...

Ditto on the crying. What an amazing story. That must have been so scary.