This is part 11 of our Birth & Parenting Series.
Part 1 (Thoughts From a Mother of Four) is here, part 2 (Mother of Seven Shares Her Empowering Birth Stories) is here, part 3 (First-Time Mother of Twins) is here, part 4 (How First-Time Parents Braved a Placental Abruption) is here, part 5 (Childbirth Collective Doula Film Premiere) is here, part 6 (First-Time Mama Bravely Faces Transverse Baby & C-Section) is here, part 7 (Homeschooling Mama Shares Her Path to Schooling) is here, part 8 (First-Time Papa’s Perspective on Birth Center Birth) is here, part 9 (Mama’s First-Time Birth and Faith in Women’s Bodies) is here, and part 10 (Unmedicated Birth for First-Time Parents) is here.
This story picks up where my sister left off last week, wherein her daughter was born, but not breathing. I was able to fly out to New York the day after she was born and stay for almost two weeks to help them a little during this unbelievably difficult time. AA and I are V’s godparents and pray for her continued strength every night. We feel so blessed by her presence in our lives!
The experience of childbirth, even in this day of technology and modern medicine, is an open portal into the great unknown. Mothers can hemmorage; babies can arrive in critical condition without any sort of advance indication. But no one ever hears a horror story and thinks it could happen to them. I never imagined having anything other than a normal healthy baby. Why shouldn’t I? All the scans were normal, we had unremarkable family histories, I scrupulously ate well and exercised throughout my pregnancy.
So when our little bundle of joy finally made it into this world, we were shocked that she was not crying, not pink, just still and blue with wide eyes darting around. My husband Aron had to run out of the room to call for immediate help while my midwife and delivery nurse worked on the baby.
Soon a team of neonatal doctors and nurses were frantically trying to get her to breathe. Aron had slumped to the ground outside our room in complete despair. I was completely unaware of the gravity of the situation, thinking she had perhaps swallowed some amniotic fluid. My midwife stitched up some minor tears, and I wondered where both my husband and new baby had gone.
When Aron returned to my side, one look on his anguished face told me something was seriously wrong. I still couldn’t believe it. I kept saying, “She’s going to be okay.” We stayed in that room for a few hours, waiting to hear some news of our little darling, asking everyone who came in if we could see her yet.
Finally, two of the NICU [neonatal intensive care unit] doctors came in and told us our daughter was in very critical condition. Her lungs were full of fluid, her heart had stopped, and they had given her an adrenaline shot to restart it. They had drained her lungs with tubes directly through her chest. They said she was alive but not stable enough for us to see her.
We kept it together until they left the room then were utterly overcome with sadness. The passage of time between that news and when we finally were able to see her seemed like 1000 years. When we finally were allowed to see her, Aron took me to the Nicu wing in a wheelchair. Her tiny body was swollen and red, tubes and wires everywhere. An oscillating respirator breathed for her, her pulse was weak, but she was alive.
We decided the only name for her was Vivian, meaning lively, or life filled. We could only touch her little open hands at that point. The doctors hypothesized that she hadn’t fully formed her thoracic duct (she was born at 37 weeks, 6 days) and it had drained into her lungs. Perhaps if she had been born later, the issue could have mended itself. There’s no way for doctors to track the development of each tiny element inside a fetus. Even with all of my ultrasounds, we couldn’t have seen the problem coming.
In retrospect, I’m eternally grateful that we decided to birth in a hospital setting with an outstanding response team, who saved her life without a doubt. The people who devote their lives to these babies that surrounded us were so full of love for each of their little charges. Not every baby was as strong as V and even with the best care, some don’t make it.
My heart ached for those parents who looked on as their babies struggled and slipped away. Every time we approached the door to the unit, my stomach would twist with fear that she had taken a turn for the worse. During her stay in the Nicu, we visited her day and night, holding her hand and singing her little songs with the hope that she knew our voices and scents.
After 5 days, we knew she would live.
After 10 days, I was finally able to hold her for the first time, and after 14 days, she was able to come home with us. We attribute her amazing recovery to all of the love and prayers our friends and family sent her way. But no small part of it is her own fighting spirit.
We know just how remarkable she is after she overcame grim odds and has grown into a heathy normal infant. 16 pounds and counting!