I didn’t know when I left for work that stormy Thursday morning that I wouldn’t make it home that day.
After we wrapped up the morning show, I headed to my 36 week check up. I had a couple false alarms in the days leading up to that with Braxton Hicks contractions that didn’t want to quit. I talked with my nurse before going to the exam room, describing the lightning I experienced that morning at work — jolts that stopped me in my tracks in the hallway. She said it sounded like Eden was getting ready for her big day. We didn’t know how ready she actually was.
My doctor listened to my daughter’s heartbeat first. It was pounding that morning, 188 beats per minute. He checked me and proclaimed, “You’re already at a three!” I was thrilled… that meant she would be a February baby after all! Maybe by next week I would have progressed to a four, and she’d be safe to deliver.
My doctor said he wanted to keep me for monitoring since her heartbeat was so fast. He told me to get dressed and poke my head out the door, where my nurse would be waiting to take me to their monitoring area. They left, and I stood up. As I cleaned myself up, I saw that I was bleeding. I stood there for a moment, considering this new symptom, when a gush of fluid hit the floor and I felt my own heart rate pick up. I froze. What just happened? It’s too early for that to be what I think it is. Did I just pee myself? I put on my leggings and I heard a tap on the door. My nurse was checking on me, and I can only imagine how fearful my voice sounded when I said, “Uhhmm… I think my water just broke?” My nurse told me to just hang tight, and she’d be right back. She came in holding a pH swab, bent down to soak it in the liquid and the q-tip turned dark brown. “Your water definitely broke! Looks like you’re headed to labor and delivery! Congratulations!”
My mind was swimming. My heart hammering in my chest. I called my husband and exclaimed, “I’m headed to the hospital. We’re having a baby!” He stammered, completely shocked trying to comprehend what he just heard, and told me he’d be there as soon as he could.
After we hung up, the nurse gave me directions to the best place to park at the hospital, which (thankfully) was right down the road. In my dazed what the crap is happening right now state of mind, I almost hit a pedestrian in the parking lot. I literally didn’t see him until he almost walked into the side of my vehicle. Lucky for me, he didn’t flip me off… he just told me to open my eyes. Dude, I thought, if only you knew how much I’m bugging out right now! The world was swimming and I could feel my heart rate continue to climb.
I found a parking space and raced across the sky bridge. I think I asked everyone I passed how to get to labor and delivery. When I arrived, a nurse grabbed my arm and took me to a delivery room. They bypassed my paperwork and focused on calming me down to get my panic attack under control. My doctor called ahead, and I heard the nurses rushing around expecting my baby to come flying out at any moment. “She’s 36 weeks and one day. It’s her second birth in less than two years. Her water broke at her appointment. This baby could come at any time.”
Oh my gosh, I thought. Danny hurry up. Please get here in time!
It took three nurses four tries to get an IV in my dehydrated, panicked arm. I still have a line of purple splashed across my right forearm as I type this.
Danny made it to the hospital about 40 minutes later. He arranged for my dad to pick up our son from daycare later that day. The chaos finally calmed down, and now we were waiting for contractions to do their job. I explained to the nurses how important natural birth was to me. They told me they supported me, and wanted to see me be successful giving birth without an epidural… but they wanted to also have a frank conversation with me. The clock was ticking. Since my water broke at 10:30 that morning, it would be best if Eden was born within 18 hours to protect both of us from infection. They said if she didn’t appear to be in distress, I could go longer than that, but they wanted me to know about the possibility of needing to administer pitocin. If my body didn’t progress, I would need pitocin to help move things along so I would at least have a healthy, vaginal delivery. They said I could still give birth without the epidural, but there was a possibility that my contractions would be much more intense than when I gave birth to August. I talked to my sister in law, who echoed their sentiments. She said I needed to prepare myself and not shy away from an epidural…. encouraging me by assuring me that there’s no shame in asking for one, especially on pitocin. But it was my husband who adamantly argued for me, saying I could do it no matter what. “Robyn,” he said, “You can do this. Unmedicated birth has been so important to you. You did it with August. You can do it now. Remember the pain will pass. You can have the birth you want.”
We waited and waited all day for the contractions to pick up. I got to know my nurses, who speculated that my water broke because of the huge storm we had that day. They said big storms and full moons cause a lot of women to go into labor. They had 14 women delivering babies that night, and only 12 rooms available. That meant two women were giving birth in triage! One of the nurses taking care of me was the same nurse who helped deliver my son, August! Another nurse, Danielle, asked if I was “crunchy” since I planned to have my placenta encapsulated. I told her she guessed correctly, and she said she was crunchy, too… but not crunchy enough to save her placenta. She told me about how she saved her breastmilk and had it turned into a ring she wore every day. I loved that idea.
August came to visit later, and had a total meltdown. He shrieked and threw himself on the floor, completely inconsolable. I started crying when he left. That was not how I wanted my last moments with my son as an only child to go. My baby was gone, and now we had to wait for our newest baby to arrive.
Around 8:00 that night, to all of our surprise, my body still hadn’t progressed. I decided to start pitocin. They eased me into it, upping the dose every 30 minutes. We listened to my labor and delivery playlist, featuring Dave Matthews Band, John Mayer, Bishop Briggs, Ed Sheeran, Maggie Rogers, Ben Rector, Of Monsters and Men, and a variety of worship music. I moved from the labor ball, to dancing, to pacing the room, and back to the labor ball. Over and over and over again for 7 hours.
A nurse came in to check me, and we had our first scare of the night. “Your baby might be breach. Don’t freak out yet, we’ll get a second opinion.” When I heard “breach,” I heard c-section, and I felt defeated already. Another nurse came in to check. To my relief, she gave us a much different update. A bag of water formed again! She said my water must have broken toward the top, and water pooled back up at the bottom. A doctor came in to break it again for me.
I started progressing at 3:00 in the morning. When the contractions started to hurt, my husband was sitting on a stool next to my bed with his head resting on my leg. I squeezed his hand every time, squeezing with more intensity as each contraction hit. Danny was so tired that he slept through the first two hours of my pain.
Then, it got real. I moved onto my knees and leaned over the back of the bed. Danny stood behind it, gripping my hands as I focused on breathing. Every time I breathed in and the knives of contractions scraped through my back, I told myself the pain would do its job and pass. Your only job is to breathe. With every breath I repeated the same phrase in my head, squeezing out the pain through my husband’s hands. The pain is doing its job, your only job is to endure and breathe. I endured, I breathed, I endured and I breathed.
Finally, my breath caught in the back of my throat and I had to push. My nurse told me to work on rolling onto my back after the next contraction so she could check me. I felt that catch in the back of my throat as I landed on my back. She checked, and announced, “She’s complete!” I heard my husband’s tone of pure confusion and then I felt that catch and my breath was taken away. PUSH. I heard lots of movement. I heard my nurse say, “Robyn, try not to push, okay?” I said something along the lines of “Yeah, right!” I felt hands on my legs. PUSH. I heard my husband’s voice reminding me to breathe. PUSH. A moment later, my daughter was laid on my chest.
Through the blur of my tears, I saw a tiny head of dark hair, and I heard her powerful cry. I glanced up at my husband to see tears on his cheeks, too.
Eden Christine was born on February 8th at 8:18 a.m. She weighed six pounds nine ounces and measured 18 inches long. She was perfect.
I got an hour and a half with my daughter on my chest. In that time, Eden nursed for the first time. Her latch was immediate and successful. When the nurse took her to check vitals though, the grunting began. Danielle assured me that Eden’s blood sugar looked good, but she wanted to call the NICU down to be extra certain her lungs were okay. Before we could process all that, our daughter was being taken away. The NICU doctor said Eden was trying too hard to breathe. There seemed to be fluid in her lungs. They let me hold her one last time. Danny only held his daughter for two minutes before she was gone.
It seemed like a lifetime before we got to see her again. I was wheeled to recovery, feeling defeated and empty handed. 22 hours of labor, and I didn’t have my daughter to show for it. I didn’t have the reward of my pain. I was terrified for her well being. I missed my son. My mother hormones were in overdrive, but neither of my children were with me.
As soon as we put our things in my recovery room, my husband wheeled me to the NICU. They pointed us to a room with three boxes. The one in the middle, 5B, contained our daughter. I looked inside and saw my tiny, vulnerable baby laying on her belly with a tube in her mouth, oxygen tubes in her nose, an IV in her hand, and monitors plastered across her chest. They told us we could lay a couple fingers on her arm, but don’t rub or stroke her because we don’t want to disturb her now that she’s finally resting. My instincts were screaming HOLD HER! But the doctors advised two finger touch only. I couldn’t stop crying.
Later that day in my recovery room, a lactation consultant came in to get me started pumping milk. I asked if my daughter’s latch would be ruined if they had to bottle feed her in the NICU. The consultant paused, gave me a poker face and said, “A NICU stay does not mean the end of breastfeeding.” I told her about my experience in the NICU and how upsetting it was. While I pumped milk, she told me, “Robyn, that is your baby. The next time you go in there, ask them when you can have skin to skin with her, not if. If she’s strong enough to take a bottle, she’s strong enough to nurse with you. Express to every nurse over and over again how important nursing is to you.”
So, that’s what I did.
As Eden’s lungs dried out and got stronger, I transformed into a machine. I visited her every three hours to demand skin to skin and give her a bottle of my pumped milk. They wanted to measure her milk intake for the first couple days. I decided if she couldn’t nurse with me, I would at least be the one to feed her my own milk, skin to skin. Every three hours, I fed her. I spent an hour or so with her before I returned to my room to pump enough for her next feed, maybe even more. I let the nurses take my vitals, ate when I had an extra minute, then headed back to the NICU to proudly deliver milk to my daughter. I set alarms to go off every three hours throughout the night so I never missed a feed. That’s how I was programmed for three days. I didn’t sleep for 42 hours.
My husband never got to stay the night with me in recovery because we wanted our son to have an element of normal and sleep in his own bed. When Danny did come to see me during the day, his main focus was seeing that I ate. He saw the machine I turned into and even spoke with my nurses. They told him they rarely saw me because I was constantly in the NICU with Eden, or pumping milk.
We took August to see his sister each day. He got the saddest expression on his face when he saw all the wires on her, and was too afraid to touch her. He couldn’t stop staring, and seemed to know something wasn’t quite right.
On day 3, Eden was wireless. Her lungs were dry and strong, she soiled diapers regularly and passed all her labs. No infections, blood sugar looking good. They let me nurse her, too. August seemed to recognize that his sister was doing better, and reached out to touch her.
If all went well that night, we’d be sent home in the morning. I had to be discharged, but the nurses found an extra room for me to stay in so I could keep visiting and nursing her through the night. One of them found a sleep mask, told me to take a Percocet later and demanded I get some rest. At that point, I’d pumped enough milk to miss a feed or two. I told the NICU nurse that she could feed Eden a bottle for me so I could sleep a couple hours that night.
My body naturally woke me at her feeding time, so I stayed in bed and looked at Eden on the NICU camera. When the image loaded, my heart and stomach plummeted. Eden had a mask over her eyes and she glowed blue. I called and asked her nurse what was going on. “She’s doing great, Mom. She took her bottle and has been comfortable all night. The only thing is her bilirubin levels got too high, so we had to give her UV therapy. We’ll need to keep her under the light through the day at least.”
I was devastated. I rushed down to see her and speak with a doctor. I could barely talk as I choked out, “I want… to take… my baby... home. I thought we were going home today.” The doctor decided Eden could come off of UV therapy around 5 that night. If her bilirubin was 13 or lower the next morning, we could go home. I sat in the NICU most of the day watching her bask in her infant tanning bed. The nurse told me they needed me to pack up my room because a mom who had just delivered needed to use it. I resolved to sleeping in the NICU waiting room, but Eden’s nurse stepped up for me and claimed the first room-in room that came available in another area of the NICU. For the first night in Eden’s life, I finally got to sleep in the same room as my daughter!
I met her new nurse in the step down level of the NICU and explained my expectations of Eden’s feeds. “She’s been nursing great,” I said, “so don’t worry about formula or bottles… I’ve got her covered.” Her nurse told me I was feeding her jaundice by breastfeeding her, and that I should offer her formula instead. I almost came off my rocker. “Why are you the first person to tell me that? Breastmilk helps her pass stools quicker, which clears out the bilirubin. Wouldn’t formula slow that down?” The nurse said, yes, I was right, but the red blood cells in my milk could be making her worse and she doubted we’d be discharged in the morning. She even said she doubted I’d be able to breastfeed her at home, and recommended I take home formula to give Eden more calories than I could provide. I felt like she was challenging me, and I was visibly upset. Ultimately, I went with my gut and stuck with breastmilk. I fed her one bottle of it that night to ensure her intake was still good, and breastfed her the rest of the night.
When the nurse came in later to weigh her, Eden hadn’t lost any weight. She appeared more confident in me after seeing her weight on the scale. “You must have some high calorie milk! I saw your stash in the freezer. I’m not concerned about her intake at all. Keep doing what you’re doing,” she said. I felt a rush of pride flow through me, and finally felt validated.
We brought in her car seat so they could test how she breathed in it before discharge (she passed). Finally, around 5 that morning, they took her bilirubin. When they brought her back to me, I enjoyed skin to skin with Eden the rest of the night.
A nurse woke me from my snuggle and snooze to pull up Eden’s test results on the computer in my room. I held my breath as she found her number and exclaimed, “Great job, Mom! 11.2. You’re going home!” I couldn’t hold it in any longer and I started to weep. My face felt as swollen as my chest from all the tears I cried since Eden’s birth. I called my husband and told him the good news. He dropped our son off at daycare and joined me at the hospital first thing that morning. After four long, difficult days in the NICU, we were going home. I’d finally be able to love on my girl like my instincts drive me to. I’d finally be with both my kids at the same time. August would finally get to see his little sister looking like a normal baby in a place familiar to him!
When we got home, we held both our kids in our laps together on the couch. August gently stroked Eden’s face, and pointed out her toes, her hair, her nose. In between play breaks, he would climb into my lap and just stare at her. I breathed him in. I missed my son.
The next night, August spiked a fever. Danny took him to the doctor where he was diagnosed with the flu. We hadn’t even been home for 24 hours before we had to turn our house into our own NICU. With Eden being so new, she couldn’t take any preventative medicine. She would get some Tamiflu through my breastmilk, but that’s all she could have. My husband and I decided Eden needed me healthy more than anything, and it would be best for she and I to be completely isolated from germs. Thus began our quarantine to the bedroom.
Danny snapped into Super Dad mode and took on cuddle sick toddler duty. He wore a medical mask all day, every day. He sprayed so much Lysol that I could smell it every time the AC kicked on. Each time I left the room to store pumped milk or grab food, I washed my hands as soon as I came back in. I ate every meal in bed.
August was absolutely miserable. He had a 102.9 fever along with a cough, and wouldn’t eat or drink anything. The first night, he was so distraught with discomfort that he threw up. Danny and I cried and prayed over him, but then I had to go wash up and avoid the germs again. We started offering August breastmilk to help boost his immune system. We were so thankful when he finally took it. We even hid his Tamiflu in the milk and were able to keep his doses going.
During the day, when I needed to leave quarantine for a moment, August would walk up to me looking for comfort. In order to keep Eden safe, I once again had to go against what my mama instinct were screaming at me to do. I slowly backed away to our room and closed the door. I felt like a traitor. I felt like I’d failed my son. I felt like I was neglecting him. I told him I loved him over and over again. I couldn’t stop crying.
Danny stayed on the couch with August each night to keep our room totally free from carried germs. Alone and cuddling our new baby, I’ve experienced the thick of baby blues and tasted postpartum depression. I heard my first baby crying in the other room, but for Eden’s sake, couldn’t respond. My heart felt broken, my motherhood in question. I even asked myself, What have I done? The same week my son starts daycare, he becomes a big brother, then gets the flu and has to see his mom avoid him and reject his pleas for comfort.
Three days of quarantine. Three days sleeping and eating alone.
I woke up on Saturday morning and it hit me… I only heard August cry once during the night (an improvement from constant wails of discomfort and sadness). Danny took his temperature and announced that his fever finally broke! August was back down to 99.0. Today (Sunday), August’s temp is at 99.6. We can finally see the light at the end of the tunnel again. As I type this, I can hear my husband vacuuming, spraying Lysol, and disinfecting every inch of the house so Eden and I can finally emerge later today.
My skin is crawling with desire to hold my son. I want to run my fingers through his hair and kiss his cheeks. Please don’t forget how much I love you.
I firmly believe the outpouring of prayer from loved ones and even complete strangers has carried us through this unexpected, unbelievably difficult week and a half. Welcoming a new baby is supposed to be joyful, but we’ve been searching for our joy through dense fog of anxiety and exhaustion. Today, I can finally see where God has shown up through all this mess. He’s in our community.
Our friends and family have covered us with prayer, meals and gifts. Medical masks have been delivered to our door, diapers and newborn onesies handed over in gift bags. New neighbors brought us homemade sugar cookies for Valentine’s Day, and comfort food to get us through our flu and blues. Our church has stepped up with people we don’t even know delivering food and keeping us on their prayer lists. Danny and I have each received countless messages from loved ones asking for updates and how they can continue to pray and provide.
We are so thankful for those who have helped carry us when it’s been too heavy for us to walk alone. This is not how I imagined Eden’s first week earthside. She has proven time and again that she is a strong, determined girl. At only a week old, she has fought off respiratory trouble, jaundice and even resisted the flu.
Eden Christine is already living up to her name.
Eden, named after the tree of life and her healing properties in the book of Revelation.
Christine, named after my mother in law — one of the strongest and spiritually bold women we know.