People say Google can be your worst enemy. And they are right.
I spent weeks in panic about the idea of being shot in the back and cut open. I knew I was having a baby, it just never sunk in about how that sweet baby would get out of me. The day before we were ‘supposed’ to deliver I was a basket of nerves. I wasn’t prepared.
As much as I wanted our little girl here, I just needed time. So I can’t say I wasn’t completely upset when they postponed her delivery.
The morning of the 10th I woke up, took a shower, shaved my legs, put on makeup (minimal) and curled my hair. Yes, I curled my hair. I didn’t put makeup on and do my hair for (completely) vain reasons, I wanted it to feel like a regular day. I just kept telling myself that things were going to be strange for a few hours then everything would be normal again.
I got checked in, didn’t panic. Got my gown on and my shower cap on, didn’t panic. Preliminary blood work and IV line started, didn’t panic. James came in and we talked, he reassured me, didn’t panic. Got put onto the rolling bed, didn’t panic.
They told me the room would be cold. I was prepared for that. They told me I was going to have to lean forward and be still. I was prepared for that. They told me the worst part would be the numbing injection.
Turns out, the room was quite comfortable to me, I was very still, and hardly felt the numbing shot go in. The spinal block was just ‘weird’ more than anything else. I could feel her hitting nerves but it wasn’t painful. I started wondering when I would start feeling this pain everyone kept preparing me for. But the pain never came.
The paralysis starts in your toes first. I sat on the edge of that table wiggling my toes until I couldn’t feel them anymore. Then they laid me down. Apparently it started working quickly and effectively. I remember them asking if I could “feel this” and I said, “Are you touching me?” She chuckled.
James came in and took at seat at my head and made sure I wasn’t freaking out. Mind you, a lot of our conversations leading up to this moment went like this: me- “ok, if I start freaking out because I can’t feel myself breathing you gotta talk me down.” James- “Exactly how do I do that?”
We went over a dozen (seriously) different “freak out” scenarios.
So I think James was pretty relieved that I seemed calm.
We just laughed and joked with the anesthesiologists for a bit and then Operation Get Baby Out commenced.
Apparently it takes a village to get Eliza James out. The operating room was literally filled with doctors. I couldn’t see anything but a big blue curtain so I didn’t care. I laid there and started some zen-like breathing while things behind the curtain got cray cray.
There was blood from what I understand. Lots of it. There was a doctor literally on top of me. And more blood. So much blood that James took a picture of it. Well, actually he took the picture because he thought I would appreciate what a lovely shade of red it was. That’s one more reason why I love him. Because it truly was a beautiful shade of Alizarin Crimson. Only another artist would think to take a picture.
It felt like the bottom half of me was in the back of a taxi cab and we were dodging traffic and my lower half was being jostled around in the back seat. That’s how I explained it. Some people say it feels like someone rummaging through a purse. There was no purse for me.
There was chatter and a conversation regarding whether they could use suction to get her out of me. I felt all the pressure go away. I knew she was out. I heard the doctor say, “Her eyes are open! ” But where was her cry? I asked James why she wasn’t crying. She was brought to us for a split second then whisked off into an adjoining room. The door opened again and that’s when we heard her cry. I can’t tell you the relief that washed over me.
James was able to take a quick picture of a grey, bloody little blob that I kept asking to see over and over again while I laid there waiting to be sewn up. Looking back, I can’t believe I fell in love with what it was that I saw because, wow…talk about odd.
You know they are going to come out weird looking because people tell you they do. But nothing prepares you for actually seeing it and worrying that you might not love what comes out.
There’s a reason animals eat their young.
This wasn’t the case. I was madly in love with that little grey, bloody blob and couldn’t wait to see her again.
They finally got her wrapped up and cleaned up and brought her back into the room with us.
An absolute beauty. My daughter was the most beautiful thing I’ve ever laid eyes on. And I’ve seen some really beautiful things!
They held her to my face and her little hands touched my cheek and I remember saying,”I’ve been waiting for you.”
Then she was gone again.
I was stitched up, rolled away and left alone for over an hour to lay there and try to wiggle my toes. That was the only thing I tried to do was wiggle my stupid toes.
I had read that the sooner you could wiggle your toes, the sooner you could move your legs. The sooner you move your legs, the sooner you see your baby. That was my mission.
I find it interesting to note that I had to be paralyzed from the waist down to deliver a baby that would more than likely be paralyzed the same way so I tried to remember what every sensation felt like so maybe I could try and understand what my daughter would be feeling…
I was finally taken to my room. They made me get off the bed that rolled by myself and get into my new bed by myself. I was like, “dang, help a sister out.” But no dice, these nurses were prescribing tough love.
I laid there just thinking about my baby. And being jealous that everyone was getting to see her except me.
I was going to see my baby. The first nurse didn’t think it was the best idea for me to try and get up. Then the next nurse asked me if I wanted some pain meds and a wheelchair. I went with the second nurse.
Fourteen hours had gone by and finally I was able to see and touch my little one. Words leave me.
So much hair. Such tiny perfect fingernails.
Her back had been covered and moistened and wrapped in saran wrap-like coverings. Her legs weren’t moving, not really. Her left foot was clubbed.
But she was my perfect baby. Perfect in every way that mattered to me.
James and I just stared at this little creature that was finally ours.
She didn’t seem to be in any pain. She just laid there on her tummy looking around.
The next day James couldn’t get to the NICU fast enough. I tried to walk faster, I did, it was just slooooow going for me. We spent all day going back and forth just staring at her and holding her little hands. We both feared the next day.
I never mentioned anything to James about the possibility of her dying in the operating room. I never said anything about worrying that her little body wouldn’t be able to survive the surgery or wouldn’t be able to recover from the anesthesia. All these worst case scenarios flooded my mind. And I know they were in James’ too. I think we both thought if we didn’t say these things they wouldn’t happen. So we didn’t. Our family tried to provide much needed distractions throughout the longest.day.of.our.lives. We just held onto our phones waiting for someone in the OR to update us. Every hour we got antsy, waiting on the phone to ring, waiting to hear that our baby girl was ok.
Finally, at 5:00 pm the neurosurgeon called. Everything had gone as planned, no complications. They were taking her to the NICU and we could see her in about half an hour.
The whole family waited in the hallway where we knew they would have to roll her through. We waited and waited. Finally, there she was in her little plastic, intubated chariot. One by one the doctors left the NICU. Once their part was done, they would walk out and smile and nod and tell us the others were almost done.
I don’t remember scrubbing in. I don’t remember suiting up. I just remember searching for her and not being able to breathe until I saw her.
She looked so frail. Her hands were wrapped up with needles stuck in them. Her face had tape on it that held the tubes that went down her throat and around her nose to help her breathe. Her back looked like something related to the monster in Frankenstein. Her beautiful hair was gone from the back of her head and had been replaced by a half moon shaped stitch pattern.
She looked like she had just been in a fight. And she had…And Little Miss won.
We sat vigil with her for what seemed like forever. She kept fighting her ventilator until James finally got a nurse to take it out. It kept filling up with moisture and she was choking! That was a scary – freak – out moment. But her daddy fought for her.
The days after that went by without a ,hitch. We woke up so excited to see her we practically ran down the crosswalk and the next thing we saw was her face.
It’s been magical.
I stand over her bed imagining what she must feel like to hold against me. I hold her hand and tell her all about her home and her pretty bedroom and her funny cats. I sing Dave Matthews and Fleetwood Mac and Foo Fighters and Coldplay to her because I don’t know any lullabies.
I tell her she is the strongest little person I’ve ever met. I tell her she is so brave. I tell her I love her. I tell her I dreamed about her face.
I cry about the unknown. I stroke the buzz cut on the back of her head and stare at her legs. Sometimes her feet move. Sometimes her legs jerk. But mostly they don’t.
I thank God every night for her. I thank him for every good thing he has blessed us with. I thank him for each day we get positive news. I still beg Him to heal her.
I feel selfish when I look around at all her cell mates, the tiny babies, tiny warriors fighting for their lives and I still ask that of Him. This unknown was something I hadn’t properly prepared myself for.
NICU life is hard.
You wake up, get dressed, drive to the parking garage, walk and walk, scrub and scrub, hurriedly walk to your baby, glance at their vitals before you look at them, sigh with relief and touch your baby’s hand. It’s like Groundhog Day. This is what you do at least 5 times a day. If you’re proactive the nurses will let you take their temperature, change their diapers, feed them (if you make it for the every 3 hour feedings), and if you’re really proactive they will show you how to clean your baby’s battle scars.
If you’re there at the right time you can watch the slew of doctors ’round’ on your baby. It’s basically like an episode of Grey’s Anatomy with a more wrinkled scrubs cast. “Baby Byrd (yes that’s what they call her) presents at 38 weeks gestation with myelomeningocele and ventricular peritoneal shunt. She is 6 days post op. Vitals have been steady. Post operative care plan…”
And if you’re really lucky nurses will mention ‘the car seat test.’
I overheard some girls at the Ronald McDonald House talking about it. This means your baby is almost ready to go home. This is the test you wait for.
We’ve had no mention of this test yet.
But that’s OK. We were given a loose time frame of recovery and we are still a week out from that so we have to be patient. Patience is so hard though.
But soon it will all be worth it.
Our Baby Byrd will go home soon. I will go home soon. James will go home soon. Our cats will hopefully forgive us for abandoning them. Life will become our new normal. Eliza James will never know what her beautiful crib feels like because we won’t put her down. I know it, James knows it. And we are ok with that. We have a lot of baby holding time to make up for and a lot of chubby cheek kissing to do.
She’s the best thing I’ve ever made. (And I’ve made some really cool stuff)
Our grey, bloody blob
My whole world
First family photo