The morning after. Waking up sore from my c section of about 32 hours earlier, and the the special torture that is a hospital bed, but determined to prove how well I was doing so that I could get out of the hospital and to my daughter’s side in her room 10 minutes down the street. After growing her and carrying her with me for the last 34 weeks, the fact that she was so little, and so brand new and already so far away from me was almost more than I could bear.
Soon a nurse came in to take my vitals, check my incision and help me to the bathroom. I began pumping the breastmilk I was beginning to produce and ordered some breakfast. I texted Kevin to see if he was awake and how Luna Bell was doing and fortunately he was awake and could give me an update.
Our little girl had made it through the night and she was doing well under the circumstances. Seattle Children’s had set Kevin up with a room where I would be able to join him and we would be able to stay at the hospital for at least a few nights. He said they were doing ok, but they were anxious for me to be there with them.
The doctor on shift came to my room after a while and said that if I continued to do well, they could probably discharge me later that afternoon. To say I was disappointed would be a gross understatement, but what could I do? About 45 minutes later, one of my doctors came to my room. She said it looked like I was doing really well, so she was going to try to get me out of there by noon! She understood that my daughter needed me and I needed to be with her and there was no good reason to make either of us wait.
I let Kevin know the good news and when my mom and step dad got to my room the plan was made for them to take me to Children’s when I was discharged and they could meet Luna Bell then. In some ways it was the longest morning ever, but getting me ready to go seemed to take all my focus and strength, so the time went quickly.
Fast forward a few hours. We got to Children’s where we went through security and I was given a “Parents” badge and lanyard. When I put it on, I had no idea what a staple this would be in my life. A given, something to check to make sure I had with me at all times along with keys, phone and wallet. Kevin met us so that he could take us to Luna Bell’s room. Seeing him and feeling his arms around me and his hand holding mine was exactly what I needed. As anxious as I was to see my little girl, I was scared. What would the room be like? Would it be noisy from all the monitors and the ventilator? Would she be awake or sedated? Would it matter to her if I was there? Would I cry? Would she? Could she?
My legs and feet were swollen and painful, and my incision was somewhat painful, but I felt the strength of 10 men and the speed of a cheetah as I rushed to see Luna Bell.
We checked in a the front desk of the NICU who made sure we could go back to her room. Again, something new to us that would soon become a daily habit like putting on shoes. We rushed back and entered a large room filled with monitors and a large ventilator and two nurses attending to my very small baby in a warming bed. There, in the midst of all the noise and lights and organized chaos was my baby girl. 4 lbs 12 oz, 12.5 inches long. She had tubes and wires and monitors covering most of her body. She had a tube in her mouth so that she could breath, and it was taped to her face so that it didn’t move. She was asleep due to the sedative and the ventilator was causing her torso to move up and down in a forced motion, not the gentle rise and fall that should be happening. I stood there for a moment; afraid to touch her. Afraid to breath. Afraid. Two lovely nurses, Kristen and Bella, encouraged me to touch her, to talk to her. And explained what everything attached to her was. I gently put my hand on her head, as it was one of the few places she didn’t have something attached and told her I was there. Sang to her. Told her everything was going to be ok.
But was it?
The day is a blur after that. But at some point, doctors; the attending and a few residents came to Luna Bell’s room to talk to Kevin and I about what was to happen next. While the details are fuzzy now, I remember one of the residents saying “ Over the next few months”. What? Months? No, my girl will be home by Christmas. We’re not going to be here months. I got angry. Doesn’t this woman know who my kid is? Who I am? We’re strong, tough, determined! Luna Bell isn’t that sick, we’ll defy all the odds and she’ll be home soon and won’t this doctor feel stupid. After they left I asked Kevin what he thought. He too was thrown by the use of the word “months” and like me, he was angry that this doctor, or this group of doctors, didn’t seem to know who my kid was. She was a little superhero and if she made it this far, she would continue to kick butt and take names and show all of us what she was made of.
I mentioned a nurse by the name of Bella earlier. She would become an integral part of Luna Bell’s story. And on this first day, we had no idea how much we would come to rely on her, but her smile, soft voice and easy demeanor drew us all in and put us at ease.
The next day was my birthday. I was 45 now. I was 45 with a two day old in the NICU. As we went through the day, Kevin convinced me to go home for a few hours. Get a few more things to make our stay comfortable and we’d have Mac n’ Cheese for my birthday dinner. The drive away from the hospital towards home seemed all wrong. How could I be leaving my girl behind? When we got home, I set about getting some things together to take back to the hospital. Clean pants, underwear, socks and shirts. Some toiletries and the piece de resistance; my cozy, fuzzy, purple bath robe that Kevin had bought for me the year before. I changed my clothes and put the robe on top of everything and laid on my bed for the first time since giving birth. We have a magic bed. You can raise the head and the legs and I did both. Kevin went to purchase Beecher’s Mac n’ Cheese and I laid on my glorious bed and responded to Happy Birthday texts and Facebook messages until I fell asleep for a while.
After Mac n’ Cheese was consumed, we headed back to the hospital. A bit refreshed and renewed and ready for the next few days. After a long visit with Luna Bell, we headed to our room and tried to sleep.
This was the first night that I had a dream that would become a regular dream like an episodic television show. I dreamed that Luna Bell and I were laying in a large warming bed; face to face. Everything that she was attached to, I was too. I was viewing this from above, but feeling everything the me I saw was feeling. In his sleep, Kevin put his arm around me and I panicked. “NO! You’re going to pull my tubes out!” I woke up with a start and startled Kevin in the process. He help my hand as I told him my dream and assured me that I was ok and Luna Bell was too. But the image stuck with me the rest of the night.
The next day was somewhat calm, more of the same. Standing or sitting with Luna Bell, pumping, eating, talking to doctors and social workers and genetic counselors and having blood drawn for testing. Seeing Luna Bell’s dark eyes open for a little bit, and hoping that she recognized us- or at least our voices. We sang to her and talked to her and I think Kevin read a book to her. The reality of what was happening was terrifying, but we really had no choice but to trust the doctors and nurses and know that they were doing what was best for her.
Another sleep in the hospital and we woke up to Thanksgiving Day. We had some options for the day. We could spend the whole day at the hospital. We could go visit Kevin’s mom, sister, niece and brother, and we were invited to his cousin and aunt’s family dinner. Kevin was having a hard time convincing me to leave Luna Bell for a few hours but he made me realize that we needed to see people. We needed the hugs and encouragement. We needed to laugh. So we left the hospital after giving the nurses strict instruction to call or page us if anything happened. We were met with hugs and smiles and encouragement and food and a warm home. Kevin was right. We had needed that more than we knew. And when we did that thing that nearly every family does at the Thanksgiving Dinner table; I said I was thankful for family. For Kevin. For Luna Bell. And for modern medicine and that we lived so close to one of the best Children’s Hospitals in the nation. The fear I felt inside for the coming days, weeks, months was masked, I hope, by the optimistic tone in my voice and the smile on my face. I was so scared that next Thanksgiving my daughter wouldn’t be with us, and that maybe she wouldn’t make it through the next day. But for today, I needed to be thankful for being her mommy. I needed to be thankful for Kevin being by my side. I needed to focus on that something to be thankful for.