“Why doesn’t she have a chart?” asked the incoming nurse. “She wasn’t supposed to stay here,” replied the other nurse, ending a 16-hour shift in the NICU in which my daughter was under her care.
We are so very blessed to have welcomed 8 lb, 1 oz Emily Jane into our family on Monday, Aug. 15, at 5:47 p.m. After 40 weeks and two days of pregnancy followed by 21 hours of labor (including nearly three hours of pushing), Emily was sent to the NICU immediately following birth for treatment and testing of a potential infection.
The next 48 hours seemed almost as long as those last uncomfortable weeks as we waited for her arrival.
My water broke on Sunday evening in dramatic fashion befitting of a Hollywood romantic comedy. My husband decided to immediately do the dishes as I showered and got ready for the hospital.
When we arrived, it was discovered that Emily had her first bowel movement following the shock of the rupture. We were prepared by the nurse that she would be checked out by the NICU staff to make sure she didn’t swallow any of the meconium. I knew this happened some of the time – it was within the realm of normal – so I didn’t worry too much.
Twenty hours later I had spiked a fever of 102. Emily’s heart was beating too fast from the stress. They started me on antibiotics and pushed even more fluids through my IV. We were both exhausted, but my doctor’s threat of a vacuum extraction or emergency c-section had me pushing harder than ever.
Emily’s birth was a complete ‘as-seen-on-TV’ moment for me, very surreal. She was placed on my chest and simultaneously wiped off by the nurse and suctioned by the doctor. Because she screamed immediately, there was an even greater likelihood she had swallowed some of the meconium. This fact, added to having been ruptured so long, my fever and the stress on her body of a long labor and delivery sent her to the NICU for more than was anticipated. They couldn’t be sure that things were normal.
During pregnancy I was the average expecting mom, occasionally full of worry. My husband did his duty in reassuring me, telling me that our daughter was fine, that she would be perfectly normal and healthy. It even became a running joke after our nurse practitioner ticked off the boxes on my chart, saying “normal / normal / normal”. I learned to let go of the anxiety that had built up during our struggle with PCOS and infertility. For once, I was just normal.
As I lay in my hospital bed at 6 a.m. on Tuesday morning, my stitches preventing any position from being comfortable, I began to write this post in my head. I had just returned from feeding my daughter in the NICU and was waiting for my next round of IV antibiotics. “Normal / Normal / Normal – Until It’s Not” is what I thought. I was frustrated.
I felt a sting of not having had a normal recovery with babe at my side and gushing visitors cooing over her sweetness. I didn’t anticipate having to pass a cross-checked security system and a three-step hand-washing station to hold my baby, let alone repeating the process every three hours.
Our daughter was a wide-eyed, not-newborn-looking pink cherub, but she was two floors down and I had trouble processing why.
She was supposed to be in the NICU for just a few hours, then overnight, or maybe by the end of the day.
It took until just prior to her wagon-wheeled discharge at 48 hours to understand that they were treating Emily as if she had an infection, but that 24 hours were needed to get preliminary results (that were negative) and other tests needed to be exceptional for her to be treated in the newborn nursery. Even on Wednesday morning her tests were borderline, but the neonatologist admitted that she was a big healthy kid and deserved to go home. She was normal enough.
By the time we arrived at our front door, ready to begin a new chapter in our life, my new mothering instincts had kicked in and I was just so deeply grateful and swollen with love. Normal enough was OK by me. We were home at last, with our beautiful little girl.
Jennifer Wilson attempted drug-free labor for seven hours before getting a lidocaine-only epidural and thanking her anesthesiologist for the relief. She and her husband deeply appreciate the care, support and kindness of each nurse on the 9th, 10th and 11th floors of Carle Hospital. Jennifer wrote 31 and Pregnant for nine months, documenting her journey navigating first-time pregnancy in Champaign-Urbana.