The morning of November 27th I heard the news that I had been longing to hear. If she continued to have a good day, and if I was ready, I would get to hold my daughter later that day. My heart jumped at the thought, and as I felt my heart jump, I realized the days date and couldn’t believe the timing.
Eighteen years before I had been diagnosed with a congenital heart condition that had gone undetected until I was 26 years old. It was serious enough that if I had gotten pregnant, it would have killed me to continue the pregnancy. After a non invasive heart catheter procedure, medication and time, the effects of the problem had left some damage and it was decided that I would have open heart surgery to fix the damage. This would be the only way I would ever be able to have children, and the best way to have a full, healthy life. I turned 28 and one week later, on November 27, 2001, I had open heart surgery. The surgery was successful and after a few months of healing I was given the green light to get pregnant. It never happened until I got pregnant with Luna Bell, and here I was, 17 years after that surgery, getting ready to hold my beautiful girl for the first time.
The day went well, and late that afternoon everyone was ready to help me hold my daughter. This was going to be quite the operation. We were going to need at least 3 people to help move her and all of her tubes from her little warming bed to my arms. They advised me that I should definitely go to the bathroom before, so that I could hold her for a long time. This was not going to be a daily thing, so they encouraged me to hold her for as long as I wanted to. They changed her diaper, and started arranging all the tubes and monitors and wires so they could be moved. I went to the bathroom and got comfortable. Kevin videoed the operation and every time I watch it, I am amazed at how difficult it was to move my little girl. I sat on the recliner in the room and held my arms out for Luna Bell. They arranged pillows on my lap and arms so she would have a wide, solid surface to lay, and as they placed her in my arms, it was not only the best feeling in the world, but also the most familiar. She was close to me again. The last time we had been this close was the night she was born…that was nine days earlier. The nurses got her all comfortable and took some pictures of Kevin, Luna Bell and I. Kevin took more pictures and then we just sat.
Usually I am like most digitally plugged in American’s. If I’m sitting, I need something to keep my attention. Even if I’m watching a movie or tv or waiting for an appointment or at work, on hold for more than three minutes, I’m reaching for my phone. But for three and a half hours, I sat; holding my daughter for the first time. Looking at every inch of her face and playing with her fingers. She looked into my eyes and I like to think she was comforted knowing that her mommy was holding her. She and I took a nap together, I talked to her, told her stories about her daddy and I, and her family and all the friends she had yet to meet. She attempted to listen while in and out of naps.
Kevin finally went to get something to eat and when he came back I finally admitted that I may have to go to the bathroom, and possibly move around a little. For the past nine days my legs and feet had been very swollen and my c-section incision was less than comfortable, but for three and a half hours, nothing hurt. Nothing was uncomfortable, everything was perfect and right and amazing, because I had finally held my little Luna Bell. When the nurses put her back into bed, she cried-but not the normal cry of a newborn. Due to her still being intubated, she couldn’t make a sound; but her face got red, her mouth was open and she had tears coming out of her eyes. It was heartbreaking. It took us quite a while to help her settle down, but we finally did and she fell asleep. As traumatic as it was to see her so upset, I left her room that night filled with so much joy that I had finally held my daughter. Kevin and I went back to my room before he headed back home for the night. He told me that the NICU unit coordinator had asked how long I thought I might be staying because there were parents from out of town that were waiting for a room. I didn’t want to think about going home yet and leaving Luna Bell at night, but she had been pretty stable and we had never been called to her room in the middle of the night. And Kevin reminded me of how comfortable and warm our bed was at home and that it might really help my own recovery. So we decided that I would go home in two days.
Kevin said good night and headed home. I made myself another bed picnic as I had missed having dinner. I replayed every moment of the three and a half hours that I held Luna Bell. I had finally checked off the “hold newborn baby” box of the new mother checklist. As I fell asleep, I thought about how important it was that I had that heart surgery. And how that one decision impacted this night 17 years later.