The arrival of Elleanna Joy was definitely not by stork. I know this. I pushed her out of my body. That first hour of life, she sat on my chest, eating as much as she could. Her face looked as swollen as my feet had been the last few weeks of pregnancy. But oh she was cute! When the nursing staff decided it was time to check her vitals, I stayed lying back, pretty dizzy. They ordered some “delicious” hospital breakfast and tried to get me to eat as much as I could to combat the blood loss. Elleanna’s oxygen levels were a little low, as well as her blood sugar levels, and her skin looked like she was dipped into red food coloring, although no one seemed to be too worried.
We finally made our way to a recovery room. My parents, Matt’s mom and Matt’s sister were the first visitors to the room. I was so out of it that within 10 minutes of their arrival I was passed out. Elleanna and I continued to try to work on nursing. That so far has been one of the hardest parts of piloting a newborn. We are both inexperienced, and that is a little scary as she is depending on me completely for all nourishment. But I digress a bit.
Before each feeding time, a nurse would come in and prick her heel to check her blood glucose. Then they would bring her to me howling, and I would try to awkwardly calm her down to nurse. That was an uphill battle, although everyone assured me it was okay if she didn’t get to eat very much her first couple of days, but then they were also saying she needed to eat a lot to keep her blood sugar up… sigh. Finally we got settled in for the night, and the nurse told us to try and get some sleep, because the baby should be exhausted from labor and would let us sleep too. Well, they were wrong. All night our daughter howled, and Matt paced the hospital halls with her, trying to comfort her.
In the morning the pediatrician came by and confidently said she was doing great. Our new nurse, however, was a little suspicious. During a nap on my mother’s lap, Elleanna’s lips turned blue and they rushed oxygen into her, and her blood sugar wouldn’t come up from a low level. I remember I was in the bathroom. When I went in, everything was peaceful and quiet. When I came out, a beehive of activity greeted me. A nurse had the baby in her arms and was whisking Matt out the door to take Elleanna with him to the NICU. I stared around the room in exhausted painful confusion. A new nurse sat me down and told me they were concerned Elleanna had an infection due to the combination of symptoms she was exhibiting. I sat down on the bed and started bawling. They moved us over to a room in the NICU, which was directly connected to the room Elleanna would take over.
Through the glass door I could see several nurses huddled around my tiny little girl. They were giving her some oxygen and strapping on all kinds of devices. She was wailing. This was the first emergence of her windmill arms, an angry warrior dance she does to ward off attacking ninjas (or just express her displeasure). One nurse had to hold her arms down, another one had to hold her legs down and still a third nurse had to work on injections, etc. That’s my girl!
Because of her little baby chunkies, the nurses were unable to find any veins to take blood from. After poking her heels and hands several times, they finally determined to use the umbilical cord to start piping in antibiotics. They also decided to try another procedure. Elleanna’s red blood cell count was very high. This can sometimes cause all of the symptoms she exhibited. One treatment is to thin the blood by 20 percent and then replace that liquid volume with saline. We decided to go ahead with that treatment. A truly gifted nurse practitioner came in and completed this procedure. First they had to take X-rays to make sure the tubing for the antibiotics and for the procedure were all in the right place…they were not, so they had to try again. By now four or five hours had passed since our migration to the NICU. It was very hard to see our little baby on her table, strapped down and eyes covered, but she had finally relaxed due to the magical heat lamp radiating warmth on her body. That gave me some comfort.
Matt and I laid down to try and get some sleep. Raw emotions coursed through my veins. We locked eyes, and began to cry and pray together. How could we even sort through all of these feelings? How could we rest but also be by her side as much as possible? We had to surrender the care of our daughter to a very amazing staff of nurses and doctors, but even after the assurance of their experience, I still felt like an enraged momma bear chained to the corner of a room. All I could do was surrender and trust the Lord to take care of all of us.
After the procedure was finished, Elleanna had to remain hooked up to umbilical antibiotics for another 36 hours. This meant she had to stay on the table was there to lift her into the arms of either Matt or me. Sadness and worry kept washing over me… these should be the days that we get to cuddle, to try to all adjust to life together… and that first night, Elleanna was not allowed to eat for 12 hours. She was hooked up to glucose to keep her going, but that didn’t stop her stomach pains. We sat with her through a lot of the night, holding her and trying to comfort her wailing. Most of my memories from those few days include lots of beeping from the NICU monitors, and endless poking of my daughter. Our lifeline was Elleanna’s beautifully improved coloring, her stabilization of oxygen levels and her regulation of her own glucose levels.
After such a good pregnancy and a great labor and delivery, we were side swiped by all of these events. I never felt a shadow, or a worry that my daughter wouldn’t make it, but the stress of being a new mom and facing all of these choices to take care of this little warrior princess creeped into my very bones. We were chugging on adrenaline, the craziness of post partum hormones and lots of visitors. I must say here that I only caught a glimpse of what it is like to have a baby in danger of not thriving, and that small window gave me a new perspective on what many moms and dads have to face as their sons and daughters spend weeks or even months in intensive care. You really are the brave ones, and I admire how you fight for your children… would we do anything less?
Finally on Monday morning we met with the pediatrician again. She really wanted to keep Elleanna for one more night to observe her. The protective lioness appeared in me. “No. We need to go home,” I said. “Is it really so serious that she needs to stay one more night? If you think so, I will keep her here. But if not, we will stay up and watch her and bring her back if we need to.” The pediatrician relented and said she did feel like Elleanna would be okay, but only if we watched her and set up a doctor’s appointment for the next day. Sweet relief coursed through my heart.
It seemed like forever before she was finally completely unhooked and brought to us in the little hospital bed. Immediately Elleanna relaxed into our arms, wide-eyed and calm. Me too. Even though we had awhile to wait for checkout, it was glorious to just sit with her and feel her warmth. When we got home, peace settled over us. The next few days were really hard for me as I fought to recover from giving birth, staying up to nurse every three hours and detox from the stress and adrenaline of her first few days of life. We made it, and our little warrior princess sure made the journey worthwhile.
Here is Elleanna chilling under her heat lamp in the NICU. The photo to the right is her awesome hearing test…her first experience with headphones. She passed with flying colors!