Happy, Happy Birthday, Baby

   Sixteen years ago, my daughter was born. I would never say this in her presence, but it was the worst day of my life. Not because she was born, but because she almost died.
   I had planned a gentle home birth, attended by a set of nurse midwives and a doula. My husband would be my partner, and our son would be as involved as he wanted (or not….he was only three). I had labored all night, and when the midwives arrived early in the morning, I was ready for the real work. After several hours, things just hit a standstill.
   My midwife could tell that I needed some space and time. They took the doula, and our son, and went to the park. The peace and quiet did me good… and shortly after they returned, the small lip that was holding my baby back slipped away. I could feel her head engage, and it was time to push.
   Things went quickly after that point. I remember the midwives turning on the light and discussing the color of the fluid that was now staining my carpet. It was not blood, it was meconium. When the baby’s head emerged, they suctioned her with a special tube, as well as a bulb. She slid out easily, and I picked her up and checked her perfect body. I thought the hard work was over, little did I know that it had just begun.
   I remember the midwife talking to my baby…telling her that pink is for girls. They were trying everything to get her to pink up. There were phone calls made to the hospital, and a quick delivery of the placenta at the midwives request.
   I remember the midwives packing away their equipment and telling me to shower quickly. The baby had to be taken to the hospital, and if they were ready before I was, they would leave without me.
   My neighbor stopped me on the stairs to ask what was going on. I assured her that everything was fine, as we loaded up my car with the baby, oxygen tank, and midwife in back. We followed the other midwife to the hospital, in through the emergency room and up to the nursery.
   She was examined, and a nasal cannula of oxygen was placed in her nose. More phone calls were made. Her breathing was so fast and so shallow. My husband asked if she should be breathing like that…..no, the nurse said….no, she shouldn’t.
   Finally,  there was a transport team on it’s way from UCSF an hour away. They would be able to care for her there. I used the breast pump that they had available to start my milk production. It seems silly now, but I didn’t know what else to do.
   When the transport team arrived, they assessed the baby…The young intern asked if anyone had taken a photo of her. No, they hadn’t. She used a Polaroid camera, and gave me the photo of my baby…just in case. They loaded up my precious newborn into an ambulance and took her away.
   We had to go pick up our son from the friends house who had relieved the doula. The conversation was unbearable. We went home, my husband dropped us off and he headed to work to do something that seemed important at the time.
   I received a phone call from a doctor at the hospital where they had taken my daughter…she was not responding as they had hoped. They needed my permission to try a more drastic approach. This was the worst case scenario that the transfer team had discussed with us. She needed surgery, and she needed it now. I told the doctor to do whatever he needed to save my baby. As soon as I hung up with him, I called my husband and told him to turn around. Whatever it was that he thought he needed to do at work could wait. He had to get to the hospital before she was sliced open. She had to know that we had not abandoned her, that she was loved, and had a reason to live.
   Before she was 24 hours old, my daughter had surgery. They severed the main vein in her neck, and attached both sides to a machine that would warm, oxygenate, and pump her blood back into her body. It would allow her heart to rest, and her lungs to recover from the meconium that she had aspirated.
   The next day, I was finally able to get to the hospital to see her. My sister had come up to take care of our son, and my mom was on her way to help out as well. I walked into the special wing of the NICU and burst into tears. My baby had wires, tubes, and monitors everywhere. There were the ECMO canula from her neck, the respirator in her nose/mouth, IV’s in her head, belly button, and arm, and a monitor in her foot. There’s nothing that can prepare you for a sight like that.
   The hospital social worker had done an amazing job of finding us a nearby place to stay for free. It was like a Ronald McDonald House, but donated by a private family. The Koret Family House was a god send for us. We could be near the hospital (right across the street), and there were toys, videos, and free passes for nearby attractions that my sister could use to entertain our son.
   We spent countless hours in that hospital…reading and singing to our baby…holding the one foot that didn’t have anything connected to it. She was kept calm and quiet (and hopefully pain free) with morphine, given an ultra sound of her head each morning to check for bleeds, and had a fulltime staff of two nurses dedicated just to her. She spent a week or so on heart/lung bypass. That week felt like years.
  Little by little she was returned to normal babydom…first one tube or wire, then another removed, until finally all that was left was her scar. She came home three weeks after her birth with no more complications or medications. She has had no lasting side effects, despite the fact that the damage done to her lungs will always remain. She wears her scar proudly, like a battle wound, and she has grown into an amazing person….my medical miracle baby.


3 thoughts on “Happy, Happy Birthday, Baby

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