The very first thing she taught us is that no two children are the same.
It’s been a hell of a few weeks.
My son was quarantined from daycare because one of his classmates got COVID. The next day he started coughing and an at-home test came up with a very faint positive. We were reeling. It’s one thing to ask friends to watch your child
for a couple of days while you’re in the hospital giving birth and recovering. It’s quite another to ask them to watch your COVID positive child who also has no daycare during work hours. We decided that if she came during his quarantine, I would go to the hospital alone while my husband cared for our son. At first, it felt like a devastating decision, but within a day or so I was at peace with it.
At the time I told David, “it’s helpful to remember that this experience isn’t that important, in the scheme of things. how often do you think about H’s birth vs about the funny thing he said the other day or a special trip we took together or how he used to do something? i want a healthy and happy child to share our lives with. how she gets here is ultimately just so minor. i wanted it to be a certain way, but i don’t have control. just like i don’t have control over when my water breaks or how quick or slow the labor progresses or if i can manage the pain, i don’t have control over whether you can be there with me or not or what kind of extra precautions the hospital might make us take or when i go into labor. it’s the same sort of thing, just extended way farther than i had imagined. but i think it’s probably the only attitude to have. this is out of my control and i just have to accept it as it is and know that it is such a small part of this journey. we’ll do the best we can to manage health risks - physical and mental - for all four of us, but ultimately there is still only so much in our control.”
Through some sort of miracle, the PCR test he took came back negative two days later. We still didn’t have daycare, but luckily we had both already largely wrapped up our work responsibilities and were able to take shifts caring for him during the work day. In some ways, it was actually very lovely to have the extra one-on-one time with our son before our daughter’s birth.
This is where I pause in the narrative to tell you how incredibly proud and frankly surprised I was at my ability to take this objectively awful situation, acknowledge my sadness, and ultimately find a way to cope. (At this point in my pregnancy with my son three years ago, I was weeks into crippling anxiety and nightly panic attacks, terrified of a stillbirth.)
Tuesday afternoon I had a doctor’s appointment. 1 cm dilated and 50% effaced “whatever that means.” I had turned down an early induction for that Thursday and was still on the waitlist for the following Wednesday. “Ah, well, she’ll come when she comes,” I told the doctor while I shrugged.
Early that Wednesday morning, around 2am, I started having somewhat regular contractions, but then they petered out around 4:30am. That morning I cared for my son while on work calls and it was tough and frustrating for both of us. But we made date bars together, I gave him a “teal bath” (a bath where we dumped in all his teal-colored toys and added food dye to make the bath water teal), and we made yogurt parfaits together for lunch.
My husband came home around noon and I headed to the office shortly after. The contractions started up again, “now that I’m not being chased by a tiger,” I told him, referring to the difficulty of caring for our son while actively participating in work calls. I stopped by the coffee shop next to our house for a coffee and a package of shortbread cookies before going in. Then I attended some online meetings and led my weekly staff meeting at 3pm. I was having contractions 5-10 minutes apart, but they were weak enough that I was able to talk through them without anyone noticing. I thought about cancelling my staff meeting and going home early, but I honestly still wasn’t convinced that I was in active labor.
I left the office at 4pm and ran into coworkers at the entrance. “She’s going to work right up until this baby comes,” my coworkers joked. I said goodnight and then walked briskly away because I could feel a contraction coming on, so strong I had to stop in the middle of the park and close my eyes. My office is only a five-minute walk from our house, but I had another couple contractions, strong enough to need to pause, before I made it home. “I think you need to tell our friends to be on call,” I texted David. He arrived home from the playground with our son five minutes later, to the sight of me sitting on the toilet, my body draped over the counter, working through a contraction.
From there everything is a bit of a blur. My husband cleaning up the house and packing the bag to go to the hospital while I cared for and reassured our son between increasingly frequent and painful contractions. Telling my husband, a bit fearfully, “This is happening way too fast.” H standing next to me and saying, “I want to feel cozy.” Our friend arriving to care for H and managing only a weak wave in greeting from my position crouched on the floor. David trying to explain where things were in the house to our friend and me yelling at him that we needed to go. People in our lobby and on the street yelling out congratulations while we walked to the car, and me half-cringing, half-laughing in between contractions at the absurdity of it. Yelling at David again that we needed to go as he took pictures of the damage on the back of the rental car. A string of obscenities directed at the rush hour traffic. Bracing myself against the car door grab handle during contractions. Listening to the navigation app call out streets and wondering if I’d be okay with the street name as a middle name for her if I ended up giving birth in the car.
We made it to the hospital. I doubled over in pain at the check-in desk. They skipped triage and took me to a room. I threatened to give birth in the lobby if they didn’t admit me. I sat on the bed as they started doing intake, responded positively to wanting an epidural when asked but then said, “Oh, you know, whenever,” when asked when. Then my water broke. Meconium again. There was a lot of commotion, the room suddenly full of people I mostly heard more than saw. I was screaming with every contraction. I was eight centimeters dilated. No time for antibiotics for group B strep, no time for an epidural. They attached my IV with a bandaid because they couldn’t find tape in time. I needed to push. I couldn’t remember how. Ten centimeters dilated, +1 station. “I can’t do it.” “I don’t want to.” But then I did. Two or three pushes later, she was here. They held her blue little body in front of me and said “You can touch her. She’s yours.” I put my hand to her arm. Everyone commented on her chunky little arm rolls. A big, beautiful, healthy baby.
It was 6:15pm. We had arrived at the hospital just 25 minutes before. Afterward they asked, as part of the standard intake, “Are you allergic to latex?”
It took me quite some time to process what had happened. When I finally held her, I looked at my husband and said, “Oh my Gd, we have another baby!”
Things were perfect. Then her blood sugar was low. We weren’t concerned because the same thing had happened with our son, and it resolved quickly with formula feedings. Plus, she honestly seemed perfectly healthy and was already doing a great job with breastfeeding. But the numbers stayed low.
22 hours after her birth, they admitted her to the NICU and started her on IV dextrose. All in all, she was in the NICU a little less than three days, but at the time, it felt endless.
At first they had her in the warmer and we couldn’t hold her to comfort her when she cried. I called it “Romanian orphanage shit” in anger. We had to force feed her formula and whatever I managed to pump. She gagged and spit up so much. There were so many wires to navigate just to hold her and she was so sticky, so covered in spit up, that the leads kept coming off her chest and making all the alarms go off. It was all so incredibly disorienting, so against so many of our instincts.
My husband went home to care for our son. We were devastated that we weren’t able to go home together. But then I remembered how just a week before we had been convinced that I would need to give birth alone. In the scheme of things, this would be such a small part of our journey as a family. We could divide and conquer and be OK.
I was discharged. I wanted to stay with her overnight but they convinced me to go home and get rest. I left the hospital at 10pm and waited on a bench for a cab, wearing sweatpants and drenched in sour milk as I clung to a big plastic hospital bag full of my belongings. It was an awful way to leave the hospital.
My son was overjoyed to see me that next morning. “Dada, look! Mama came home!” I was so happy to see him too, and especially to see how open and forgiving he was of my absence. My husband and I took turns going back and forth from the hospital and home. It’s a beautiful ride, past the Mall and the monuments and along the river, to the hospital, but I didn’t enjoy it once.
It took her a long time to wean off the IV. And then we thought she had done well enough to come home, but the pediatrician said she had to stay at least another night. I sobbed in the hospital cafeteria over pudding. We talked about renting a car. I made plans to bring burp cloths that could catch more of her endless spit up. We spent another night apart.
They finally discharged her the next morning. Halloween. We brought her home in a bear hat.