This is part four of my mini-series “Welcome to Motherhood.” Miss the beginning? Start here.

The clock in the dashboard glowed 2:23am as we drove down the ramp from the emergency room parking garage. We stopped at the bottom, and Scott asked, “Which way?”

For the first time, I couldn’t remember. My impeccable sense of direction was drowning in the palpable void of Elli’s empty carseat in the back. We were driving away from our baby. I’d been attached to her, feeling every kick and squirm, for 38 weeks. It wasn’t right. We shouldn’t be separated. They told us we could go home and rest, but were they right?

newborn Elli and Joy

(gotta love the weird cropping when you scan from a scrapbook)

We craned our necks and spotted a sign for an interstate to the left. A clue. Half an hour later, we fell into bed.

My eyes opened, blinking at full daylight. What time is it? Did we really sleep? Did we miss a phone call? I lurched out of bed, then stumbled light-headed and grabbed the wall and my now-empty belly. I bent over and felt my head fill with blood and my field of vision expand. More slowly, with a hand on the wall, I shuffled to the bathroom, then to the telephone. Dialed the numbers.

“Hi, I’m calling to see how Elli is doing? Is this her nurse?”

“No ma’am, this is the front desk. I’ll page her nurse for you.”

A few seconds later, I heard the cheery voice I remembered from a few hours ago. “Did you sleep?” she asked.

“We did. Thank you. How is Elli?”

“She’s doing fine. The doctors want to talk with you when you get here,” she answered.

“Good. We’ll be down in about an hour.”

I called our parents and our pastor with the update, while Scott wrote a short follow-up email to Elli’s birth announcement from a few days prior. I tried to pump with a hand pump, but couldn’t get the hang of it. My breasts were rocks and stung like fire. What is happening to my body? What is happening to my brain? I always figure things out. 

An hour later, we scrubbed and signed in to the NICU. The desk attendant asked who we were there to see. “Our daughter, Elli. She’s in Pod H.”

“Hold on. They are doing something back there right now, so you can’t go back to see her just yet. We’ll come and get you when she’s ready.” She pointed to the waiting room.

“Oh.” We looked at each other. This isn’t how the nurse told us it would go last night.

“Well, I need to pump. We’ll be in a pumping room, I guess.”

We turned right past the desk, away from Elli’s pod. Down to the end of the hall, right again, to find both pumping rooms at that end occupied. My chest was aching with every step. We turned back the way we had come, heading to the pumping rooms near Elli’s pod.

As we rounded the first corner, back into the main hallway, we saw a tall man with longish curly hair and a long white coat with The Heart Center logo. He strode towards us, accompanied by a short woman.

“Mr. and Mrs. Bennett?” he asked.

“Yes,” Scott answered.

“I’m Dr. Schwartz, the cardiologist in service today.” He held out his hand.

We shook it, glancing at the woman next to him.

“This is the chaplain.” He told us her name, but I don’t remember. Everything stopped, as if we’d just been plunged underwater. We used to watch “Trauma: Life in the ER” on TLC. I saw the same deer-in-the-headlights look in her eyes that I was sure showed in mine. I tried to breathe but kept choking on the words the chaplain.

Read part five, “Almost As Bad As It Gets” here.