I looked up at my husband and we smiled at each other. After what seemed like forever, the baby was finally here, and she was the girl the sonogram had promised! We were so happy.
A flurry of nurses, doctors, hushed conversations. My husband, Dave catches this activity on his radar and moves toward the hospital personnel coiled around my newborn. There is a lot of activity and sound, but one sound is distinctly missing.
She’s not crying.
I wait, holding my breath. I’m hooked up to so much beeping, chirping, dripping medical equipment, there’s no way I can move even if I’d want to. After what seems like an eternity, a small, weak cry issues. It’s then I realize I’ve forgotten to breathe. A nurse holding my beautiful newborn wrapped snugly in a blanket, walks toward me.
This is the moment I’ve dreamed about. The nursing staff did the APGAR thing, cleaned the baby and swaddled her into a tight little package. Now they’re going to place her gently and lovingly into my arms. I reach out to take my baby, but the nurse says gently, kindly, “Give her a little kiss.” I do.
She was so warm. The last remnants of our shared body heat.
Then – whisk. In a moment, they are all gone and I am left with the warmth of the kiss still sitting on my lips.
In my mind’s eye, I can still see them all leave: the nurse carrying my baby, my husband looking worried but charged with purpose as he followed the nurse out. He gave me a short wave and said, “Don’t worry, I’ll make sure everything’s okay.” Soon afterward, most of the staff left, the doctor, the crew. The settling quiet where just minutes before had been such activity, was deafening. The last remaining nurse pulled my blankets up around me and smiled sweetly.
“Is everything okay…with the baby?” I managed to sputter, fighting tears, afraid of the answer. “Yes, dear. Your baby’s small so they’re taking her to the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit. They’ll take good care of her there. You can visit her in the NICU soon.”
I croaked out a single word. “Oh.” And then, “Thank you.”
The nurse encouraged me to get some sleep, then she, too, leaves me alone. I’ve never been good at sleeping when so much has happened, and this day was no exception. I’d been diagnosed with preeclampsia during the pregnancy and as a precaution, the doctors in Sierra Vista had sent me to the hospital in Tucson where I’d spent the previous month on bed rest. During that time, all I’d really done was rest and sleep. I wanted to move, get out, go, but still I couldn’t.
The hours ticked by ever so slowly. I couldn’t sleep and I couldn’t shut my brain off. I was alone, REALLY alone for the first time in ages. During the entirety of the previous month the nurses had taken my vital signs every four hours around the clock. Now, no one knocked. No one came in to check my blood pressure, take my blood. Dave checked in once, my sister Michelle stopped by, and then my dear friend Juno came by. It was a blur and in between it was so very quiet.
At some point shortly after they took her to the NICU, a nurse brought me a Polaroid of my little baby. If you see the photo above, the one where she’s on the warming bed, that’s very similar to the image I held onto. “My little peanut” was ok, they said, but I didn’t really know much more.
The ache – the pain in my heart and the longing to see my baby – is indescribable. I desperately wanted to hold her, to whisper to her that I was so glad she was here and that I’d never let her go. I’d never wanted something so much in my entire life and I could bear it in no longer. The tears flowed.
A knock at the door.
“Helloo-o-o,” a cheery voice called. In walked a nurse, rolling a bassinet with a baby wrapped warmly inside. She smiled and sang, “Hello, Mama, I’ve brought you your baby!”
My heart leapt. My heart sank. I was confused, then crestfallen. “No, I, uh…I don’t think that’s my baby.” I whispered.
The nurse froze. She looked alarmed and said, “Um, what?” She checked a piece of paper. She walked backward and checked the door. “Oh, no, I’m so sorry.” she apologized.
“Yeah. My baby’s in the NICU,” I said very quietly. “I –” I choked back the tears which were threatening to spill out again, “I haven’t even seen her yet.”
I saw her embarrassment turn into something else. She could help. “Well, that’s gonna change,” she said with conviction. She apologized again and wheeled the baby back out of the room.
Now, I know there are protocols for this sort of thing. First, I’m pretty sure hospitals are really careful about bringing the right baby to the right room, and they’re extra careful to ensure parents of babies with special circumstances are treated gently, but this … this was some kind of serendipity. Some kind of special, happy accident because the very thing I’d been wishing for with all my heart was about to happen and all because a sweet nurse made a tiny little mistake. I forgave her instantly and I could hardly hold back my joy.
A few minutes later she returned with a wheelchair and took me personally to the NICU to see Amber. I remember the first time I laid my eyes on her. She was so small. So fragile. She could swim laps in her diaper. Her arms, bones wrapped in skin. I could almost see her radius and ulna wrapped under the epidermis. She had wires and electrodes strapped to her and her tiny arm had a teensy little IV supplying her fluid.
The emotion. The flood of emotion was almost too much to handle. A NICU nurse placed her, after nearly 10 hours, into my arms for the first time. I looked at her tiny, sleeping face. Her impossibly small hands and I knew at that moment a deep, profound love I’ve never felt in my entire life. I thought I loved my husband, my sisters, my parents – but this was so very different. This was way beyond words, songs, lyrical lilting – anything.
I would die for you without a second thought kind of love.
I could easily lift a car off you kind of love.
Here, take my kidney. You need it more than I do kind of love.
This is where it began. The love, the urgency of the feeling of needing to hold on to this precious child and yet, the knowledge that the time is so fleeting and I would one day have to let her go. The time is so brief, so impossibly hard to hold onto and yet so important, that I need to capture every possible moment I can.
- The first picture I ever took of her.
- The one I took today, sixteen years later and holding her newly minted driver’s license.
Time goes so fast. If you don’t reach out and freeze it, it passes you by. Take lots and lots of pictures my friends. You will never regret it.