This is the first of a special week-long series I’m calling “Welcome to Motherhood.” It is the story of meeting our firstborn and through her, the staff at Children’s Hospital. I will post two installments per day, the first at 7am and the second sometime between 1 and 3pm (eastern), through Friday. 

I remember telling my coworkers that my pregnancy had been so uneventful that I was sure this child was going to make up for it later. “He or she will probably be an awful teenager,” I speculated.

We opted not to find out whether the baby was a boy or a girl at the routine ultrasound. Only two things stand out in my memory of that ultrasound, how difficult it was for me to make out body parts in the flickering black and white images on the screen, and how hard the technician tried to get one specific picture — a cross-section of the aorta and the pulmonary artery. She wanted to catch these two vessels at the point where they cross one another — you can see both at the same time in what looks like a figure-8. But the baby wiggled a lot and the technician didn’t seem to think it was a big problem that she couldn’t get the picture. I took her word for it and went on my merry way.

I went into labor on February 26. I was only 38 weeks along and didn’t believe I was really in labor until I got up to the use the bathroom and found blood. As soon as I got back into our room to wake up Scott, my water broke in a gush all over the floor. We arrived at the hospital an hour or so later, me still nonchalant about the whole thing. It was my first, and I figured I still had hours to go. The nurses were nonchalant too, until they checked me and discovered I was 8cm dilated.

My room exploded with energy as people ran to get delivery gear, call the doctor, and prep the room. I hit transition within minutes and the next ten minutes or so is a blur of pain, trying different positions, and bristling at the nurses who kept telling me not to close my eyes. I remember looking up at one point and seeing a semi-circle of people standing around the room, maybe a dozen, and thinking how odd it was that I didn’t even care that I was naked and surrounded by strangers. Then the pushing, the doctor arriving, our daughter being placed in my arms, and my entire body shivering uncontrollably under the blessed warmth of preheated blankets.

Elli minutes old

I remember feeling numb when I looked at her for the first time. I had expected this flood of love and emotion, but it didn’t feel that way at all. In a lot of ways, it was just as awkward as meeting your college roommate the day you move into the dorms as a freshman. I knew we were going to live a lot of life together, but I didn’t know her at all and didn’t know what to say or how to be. Only times 100, because I was her MOTHER and she was my DAUGHTER and shouldn’t there be rainbows and symphonies and rays of sunshine in that moment?

We named her Elli Renee, which means “Light Reborn.” Her first APGAR score was low, but after some blow-by oxygen, her second score was normal. Scott gave Elli her first bath while I got stitched up and cleaned up.

I tried to nurse her, and our families came in to see her, and about an hour after she was born, a pediatrician came to examine her. I remember him listening to her heart, then asking to borrow a nurse’s stethoscope to listen again. He asked me to use my call button to ask for another stethoscope. After the third listen, he told us that our baby had a heart murmur. He ordered a chest x-ray and EKG, and said she would need to see the cardiologists at Children’s. We never got those test results, no cardiologist contacted us, some of the nurses could hear the murmur and some couldn’t, and we were discharged home, so I decided it must be one of those murmurs that resolves on its own. I remember telling myself that babies are born with heart murmurs all the time, and this doctor must be running up our hospital bill. (I guess I’ve always been a bit of a skeptic.)

Three days later, Leap Day, a nurse visited us at home. We told her Elli couldn’t stay awake to nurse. A weight check showed alarming loss. Elli’s skin was yellow down into her midsection from jaundice. “You have to get her to a doctor today,” the nurse told us.

We took Elli to my family practitioner, who sent us the emergency department at Children’s. It was the last place I wanted to take my infant – all the germs! I had the baby blues, I was exhausted from the delivery and waking up to try to feed Elli, and then we got lost on the way to the hospital. If the doctor hadn’t told us she had called the hospital to tell them we were coming, and if my husband hadn’t been with me, I might have turned around and taken Elli home. Thank God for my husband. If I’d gone home with Elli, she would have died in our apartment that night.

Read part two, “And All My Denial Shattered on the Floor of the Emergency Room” here.

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