My husband and I exchanged a worried glance as we heard our pediatrician calmly say, “I suggest you go to the hospital.”
Then she added, “and don’t stop at home.”
It was December 24th. We were new parents who, only an hour earlier, were debating whether or not to take our new baby to the doctor for what seemed like a bad cold. The worry about being “those parents” who overreacted was quickly replaced with new worry as we barreled towards the downtown Chicago children’s hospital with our baby in the backseat suffering from a case of bronchiolitis caused by respiratory syncytial virus (RSV).
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I was one of those women who just loved being pregnant and may have actually been glowing. Then my water broke 5 weeks early. Rather, it exploded as it doused the front seat of our car, leaking down to the toes of my boots while my husband and I drove home from our first parenting class. Two hours and an emergency c-section later knocked that glow out of me real quick. I caught only a glimpse of my new daughter as she was whisked away to spend the first three weeks of her life in the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit.
A birth not-at-all according to plan can be expected, but a NICU stay was not remotely part of my own mental preparation for labor or this whole parenting gig. And so I went into the dark, mourning over all the unmet expectations I had for new motherhood. I couldn’t see anything beyond the beeping monitors and the lonely chair where I rocked my tiny baby as she was hooked up to tubes that needed rearranging each time I picked her up. When I came home from the hospital with her still in the NICU, I would walk into her room and stare at the empty crib.
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The question caught me completely off guard. “Well, I guess since she’s still in the hospital, I could come in this week,” I heard myself answer as a lump formed in my throat. My boss had called my cell as my mom and I were driving to visit my newborn daughter in the hospital NICU.
What I thought had been a check-in to ask how I was doing after my first baby arrived five weeks early, was instead a request to come into the office for a few hours and train my replacement.
Yes, my daughter had arrived at 35 weeks with no warning and no, I had not trained the person who was going to be covering my maternity leave. But my boss hadn’t even figured out who my replacement would be. Now the team was scrambling and I was asked to lug my one-week postpartum body, which was still shuffling instead of walking thanks to an unexpected c-section. And my emotionally unstable postpartum mind, that couldn’t go an hour without sobbing, on a 45+ minute commute downtown, up an elevator 40 floors, and back into work while my new baby lay in a hospital hooked up to tubes. I wish I would have articulated all of these considerations out loud to him, but instead, I hastily hung up the phone and promptly burst into tears.
My aunt just posted one of the only photos she has of just her and her mom, my grandma, to Facebook. The picture was from the summer of 1976. My aunt is 10, my grandma is 50. They are standing in front of a rocky shoreline at sunset, my grandma’s arm wrapped tightly around her shoulder, my aunt’s head snuggled into her embrace. It’s one of the only pictures of her and her mom because she was the eighth in a family of nine kids. The photo has the aged, yellow glow of an Instagram filter, warmly reminding my aunt of that hug from her mom forty-some years ago.
But it is not 1976. Kids like mine will have countless photos from their childhood. How will they curate their own photos when so much has been documented of their little lives?
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I’ve never been good with blood—or pain for that matter. I’ve fainted while ripping off a Band-Aid, getting a flu shot, and reading the vampire birth scene from the third Twilight book. I was even wary of reading ahead in What to Expect When You’re Expecting during my first pregnancy because I didn’t want to pass out in public or change my mind about this whole giving birth thing.
So while I knew a “natural” birth experience wasn’t for me, I didn’t know my water would break five weeks early, drenching the passenger seat in our car as my husband and I drove home from our first parenting class.
A quick U-turn back to the hospital and it wasn’t long before I was being wheeled through an eerily empty corridor towards a green-lit OR. It was near midnight and I literally watched one of the doctors about to cut me open yawn as I passed. Thankfully, another doctor held my hands maternally as the anesthesiologist stuck a needle in my spine. She assured me the baby would be fine before she disappeared to the other side of the blue curtain.
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The day my grandmother died, I missed the phone call to tell her goodbye. I’ve often wondered how I would have handled the weight of that moment. Surely many “I love you”s would have been blubbered through tears, but would I have told her what I’d known for as long as I could remember? That if I was lucky enough to have a daughter someday, I would name the baby after her? I’ll never know.
But let’s not talk about that, she would say. This is not a sad story. A year later, I did have a baby girl. And I did name her after my beloved grandma, Corinne.
My pregnancy had been pleasant and uneventful until my water broke five weeks early, dousing the front seat of our car as my husband and I headed home from our first parenting class. Two hours later my baby was out and I enjoyed regaling the tale of our late-night surprise to my family, friends, and even clients via calls, texts, and emails. It was 3 a.m. and I think I was still high on adrenaline and whatever drugs they gave me for the C-section. Initially, doctors said to expect a week-long hospital stay for our preemie. I had only seen her for a second before she was whisked off to the NICU while I stayed on the table to be sewn up.
Eight hours later, with my husband’s coaxing, I finally stood up in slow motion and shuffled my way toward the NICU wing. I stepped into the room and froze. She was tiny. She was hooked up to tubes. She opened her mouth to cry, but no sound came out, a ventilator stuck down her throat. She would spend nearly three weeks gaining strength in the hospital, while I found myself in a dark fog. Even after she came home, I couldn’t shake the feeling that I had missed out on so many “firsts” of motherhood.
Then, something miraculous happened. My dad emailed me a direct line to the past. My uncle had come across a typed essay my grandma, my new baby’s namesake, had submitted to Reader’s Digest sometime in the mid-1960s. It was never published—he also found the rejection letter—but today she may have been a bonafide mommy blogger.
I’ve always had to travel for the holidays. My parents were wonderful about keeping Christmas morning focused on our immediate family, waking up at home with Santa gifts under the tree. But then after breakfast, we’d be packed up and on the road for at least an hour’s drive to visit relatives.
When my first baby was born, my husband and I decided we weren’t going to travel for the holidays. She was a preemie, we were recovering NICU parents, and she was only a few months old. Plus, my husband had always been a closeted Clark Griswold, and wanted to make Christmas magical for his firstborn.
Then the miraculous happened. My entire extended family was coming to me in Chicago on Christmas! In truth it wasn’t just me drawing them there, some cousins lived in the city too, but now 30-some of my relatives were going to be gathered in our city to celebrate a real “big old-fashioned family Christmas!”
My husband and I planned a casual Christmas eve dinner with friends since my family would be arriving Christmas day. I couldn’t wait to introduce our new bundle of joy to the expansive extended family she’d been blessed with, plus my three younger brothers, one even flying in from his job overseas. I imagined everyone swooning over her and pictured us bundling up and strolling downtown to take in the twinkling magic of Michigan Avenue at night.
But the day before Christmas she got sick. New parent worry kicked in and we took her to the doctor that day, assuming we were probably overreacting. A quick check-up later and we were told to go straight to the ER and, alarmingly, not to even stop at home.
Our little preemie had RSV. No visitors. No unwrapping gifts under the tree. No “big old-fashioned family Christmas”.