A Baby Story: This Story is Longer Than I Thought…

Charlotte Kate Harrell

Born at 12:42 pm

Weight: 3 lb. 7 oz.

Length: 16 inches.

Head: 11 1/2 inches

Chest: 10 inches

For an hour, I laid in the post-op room with a nurse sitting right next to me making sure I didn’t pass out or bleed out or steamroll out of the bed and army crawl away. You could cut off my toes and I wouldn’t feel a thing still.

Clark came in with the camera so that I could see our precious little nugget baby. I couldn’t stop smiling as I scrolled through the pictures. She didn’t really seem THAT small. I’ve seen babies that small before, haven’t I? They had her head inside a little bubble that was helping her breathe. Clark said she was doing great. I don’t know at what point after you have a baby you’re supposed to feel like I mom. But I definitely did not.

I wasn’t able to see her until 8 o’clock that evening. They were making sure she could breathe and was comfortable, plus I had to recover as well. Finally, I wheeled back with Clark and his friend Zach to see her. Evelyn was the nurse that was taking care of her. She soon became one of my favorite people. We had to thoroughly wash our hands before we were allowed to enter the nursery. Charlee was in the very back where they kept the extra special babies. It was surreal staring down at her… she was mine. I was a mom. I still didn’t feel like a mom. Our doctor told us that her lungs weren’t quite developed enough to breathe on her own so she had a huge mask on her face called a CPAP that was helping her breathe. She looked so sweet and so fragile, hooked up to a million different tubes and wires and cords.

The nurses told us not to touch her very much because she wouldn’t like it. I tried not to be sad about that statement. So I just sat there and stared at her. She was beautiful. She had the sweetest little lips that were oh so kissable and have received countless kisses since.

It’s so hard to tell how teensy she was in pictures. I didn’t even grasp how small she was until another newborn was wheeled in. “That baby’s huge!” I said, and looked down at the card that listed her weight. 7 lb. 12 oz. I think my scale is off. I’ve never been good at estimating, but geez, I could’ve sworn that baby was 10 pounds.

Charlee literally had no fat. She had her first dirty diaper a day or two after she was born and the nurse asked me if I wanted to change it. Obviously, I jumped at the chance to actually touch her. I took her diaper off and looked at Clark like, “What the heck is going on down here?” I was so confused. She had no cheeks. No butt. Excuse my french, but she had no crack. It was just one big back with two scrawny legs sticking out of it. I can’t describe how bizarre it looked. I wish I had taken a picture, because I doubt I’ll ever see a crack-less bottom ever again. The nurse looked at us and reassuringly explained, “Don’t worry, it will all look normal eventually.” Phew.

The next couple days were mostly positive. Charlee’s doctor gave her some kind protein (I think) that helped her lungs stay open (or something) when she breathed so she wasn’t so labored (I was on heavy pain meds, the details are hazy). This allowed her to get off of the CPAP and normally intubated. Her weight dropped down to 3 lb. 2 oz.

We were supposed to go home Saturday, but I passed out on the toilet (haha) and hit my head on the shower. Clark walked into the bathroom to find me lying half in the shower, half on the tile floor. Just for safe measures, I had to have a CT scan to make sure I wasn’t bleeding internally and stay an extra day to make sure my blood pressure didn’t drop again.

We started packing up our stuff. It was … hard … leaving the hospital without a baby. There’s a definite emptiness that’s indescribable. How can one become so attached to another so suddenly? The bond between a parent and a child is a miraculous thing.

We were in the process of moving (we thought I’d still be pregnant when we planned this) so we moved in with my parents for the time being. This worked out perfectly for me because my mom is the most maternal, selfless, sympathetic, at your beck-and-call nurse you will ever know AND I didn’t have to pack or move a box … doctor’s orders. My mom washed bottles, brought me glasses and glasses of water, issued my pills, ordered naps, brought books, magazines, dvds … it was an invalid’s heaven. But it was strange being taken care of like a child and knowing that I was a mom.

I guess you’re always both.

I was at the hospital as much as possible. I would go for as many feedings as I could, and when I couldn’t, I’d feel guilty… indicative that I was turning into a mother, slowly. She ate every three hours, so my days always seemed full. I would get there, feed her, hold her, on a good day I’d get some skin-to-skin time (kangaroo care… look it up), go home, pump, watch Downton Abbey, and start all over. After the 9 pm feeding I would sometimes cry walking back to my car. She was just so sweet. I loved her so much already. Why can’t I take her home?

We weren’t necessarily waiting for a magic number as much as for her to gain consistently and be able to keep her pulse ox above 90. I don’t technically know what pulse ox means (something about oxygen), but I know that there was a machine hooked up to her that would beep if the little green number dropped below 90. So Clark and I would just sit and stare at the screen. Every time one of us would be there without the other, we would report on her pulse ox as soon as we left. “Her pulse ox stayed around 95 the whole time.” or “Her pulse ox was dropping constantly, even as low as 70. Not a good day.”

Hendrick doesn’t have a “NICU”, per se. Because they don’t have a neonatologist, they technically can’t be considered a NICU. But I cannot explain my appreciation for the nurses in the “nursery.” It was like going to first-time-mother class three times a day. I knew they loved Charlee Kate and each of them cared for her as their own. I had become friends with them. I had relied on them, depended on them, looked to them for answers. It was strange how it began to feel like home after being there so often. I was almost sad to take her home, like I was leaving my security blanket. I became attached.

The day she was ready to go home came upon us faster than we’d anticipated. She was a champ. She progressed daily and adapted to everything with ease. The nurses all bragged on how well she did for being so small. She was pretty amazing. She was 4 lb. 3 oz. the night we roomed-in at the hospital with her. She stayed in our room, but the nurses were there if we needed them. As excited as I was, I was equally terrified. I don’t know how to do this on my own. I don’t know how to take care of her all the time, just every three hours. Her size didn’t intimidate me; I’d grown accustomed to her tininess. It was just the fact that she was a baby, and I was a baby, and a baby can’t raise a baby. I needed a couple of the nurses to come home too.

As we left, I stared at her in her carseat. You know in “Honey I Shrunk the Kids” when the ants look like huge monsters? That’s what the carseat looked like. It completely dwarfed her tiny little body. Are we sure this is safe? But we left. And she survived the drive. And we survived the first day. And the first night. And we’re still surviving.

I wouldn’t wish this upon anyone. But then again, maybe I do. I do not at all look back on those three weeks with any kind of regret or disappointment or sadness. Obviously there were difficult moments, but it was the sort of experience that I can look back on and think, “That was pretty dadgum incredible.” I know that thousands of prayers from all over the world (shout out to Derran and Ann) were going out for us and I got to visibly, emotionally, and spiritually experience those. I saw the miraculous fight of a 3 pound baby. I felt the peace that surpasses all understanding. I encountered the love of Christ through the love of his people. And I don’t think that’s something to be sad about.

And, drum roll please, THIS is not something that I could ever be sad about…

A Baby Story: Part III

I think I’m one of those people that doesn’t process emotions well. What does the face of a mom whose baby has stopped growing and is going to have an emergency c-section look like? I just kept looking at Clark with nervous laughter. What’s going on right now? I was so thankful for our doctor in that moment. He laid his hands on us and prayed over us and Charlee Kate for a safe and fast delivery and a healthy baby. How many gynecologists do that?

When he left the room, I stopped trying to process and started making phone calls. I called my school first and explained that I was going to need a sub today. And many more days hereafter. Then, I called the other coaches so that one of them would go watch my 2nd period class until the sub showed up. I tried not to think about the fact that I had no lesson plans for a sub or that my classroom was a mess or that my 6th period class was horrible, terrible, horrible, awful, horrible for subs and that I hadn’t been able to threaten them beforehand. I can’t control it. Bigger fish to fry. Can’t worry about it. Get over it. I didn’t want to call my family yet. I thought I might cry, and I didn’t want to cry. This was going to be a happy day, not sad.

As we walked out of the office, Clark grabbed my hand and squeezed it. We stepped into the elevator, and I started to tear up. It was as if the elevator signified the beginning of a very long journey and I was saying to myself, “Alright. Here we go….” She’s fine. Her organs are good. Her heart rate is good. She’s good. She’s just little. I can do little.

So we just started talking logistics. Who do we need to call? What do we need to do? Did he need to go to the apartment and get anything? Shoot, I don’t know. What do good, prepared moms that pack a bag at 30 weeks take to the hospital? Um. Underwear? All I could think of was the camera. Get the camera.

We walked out of the elevator and sat on the benches in the lobby to call our families. I attempted to be calm as I called my mom, but I knew she could hear the fear in my voice. If she had any stress or anxiety, she hid it well. “Alright. Alright. Okay. Don’t worry. I will call everyone. I’ll be there in 10 minutes. Are you okay?” “I’m okay.” And I was. This was going to be okay. I was going to meet my daughter today.

After we checked in and got settled into the room, Clark left to pack a bag and my mom, Jenna, and Ellie arrived along with some sweet friends soon after. Matt was working and dropped by to ask if I’d like him to assist in the C-section. No thanks, bro. (He was joking.)

I actually began to get a little excited. Nervous, yes. Anxious, yes. But it was the weirdest thing to watch the clock, knowing that in 45 minutes…. 30 minutes…. 10 minutes… my baby is going to be outside of me.

The spinal tap was weird. The first time he tried to insert the needle I felt a sharp pain and my entire right leg jumped/convulsed. “Did you feel that?” he asked. Um, nope. My body usually spasms like that. Second time was more successful and then immediately my body went numb. Like NUMB NUMB. I felt like a floating head. Clark stayed at my head, wisely, and said later that he saw a lot of blood out of the corner of his eye at one point and decided that was as much as he was going to see.

It was so fast. My doctor said my incision was the smallest he’d ever made because he knew she wouldn’t need much of an exit door. I felt pressure and then… I heard her screams. That’s a good sign, right? He held her up over the curtain and tears filled my eyes. I tried to take a mental picture. She was tiny. But just as soon as I was starting to feel all those first-time-mom-feelings, she was gone. And then Clark left with her. I didn’t get to hold her. Or touch her. Or feed her.

You know all those stories you hear about the experience of childbirth and the feeling of pure joy and fulfillment once the baby is out and how they just immediately fell in love like they’ve never been in love before? It wasn’t that. It was so strange. I guess I’d use the analogy of a movie. You start to watch it and all of the sudden, 10 minutes into it, the climax hits. And it’s over. But you weren’t ready for the climax. You hadn’t been invested in the story enough. It had just begun to build up. I was left lying on a hospital bed, alone, except for a few doctors, unable to move with a strange pressure in my chest and a dizziness in my head. I felt like passing out. It was like I didn’t work for it. I didn’t labor at all, so I didn’t have that feeling of satisfaction, seeing the rewards of my labor. It wasn’t birth as much as it was extraction.

I know there’s a million women who have had a c-section, many of them emergency, many not expecting to have their baby when they did. So I’m not trying to dramatize something that millions have done. But there is definitely a part of me that is afraid I’ll never get to feel what it’s like the other way around.

I wouldn’t trade Charlee’s birth story for anything. What I experienced through her wild entrance into this world can’t be put into words. I cherish her and the way I met her. I am so thankful that I got those extra weeks with her and was the mother of a true infant for an even longer time than most. What I didn’t experience through childbirth, I think I made up for in all the weeks she was in the NICU learning to breathe on her own and gaining weight. I gained an appreciation for new life that I’m not sure you can acquire without having gone through something similar.

This post is so long.

I got on a tangent.

Back to the story…

Eh. I’ll just finish later. That’s enough for now.

A Baby Story: Part 1

This is one of those posts just for me. And maybe eventually for Charlee to read. But feel free to join me in my reminiscing. Just keep in mind that it’s mostly words, not many pictures.

I know my memory and am pretty sure the following story will only be 90% true. Not because I’m lying or exaggerating, but because I can’t remember it well enough anymore since it didn’t happen 2 hours ago so I’ll write what I’m pretty sure happened.

THIS is the story of Charlee’s premature entrance into this world…

First off. Charlee was not supposed to happen. 🙂 I may or may not have said something that sounded a lot like “sheet” when I saw the pregnancy test (my mom is going to be really disappointed in me). I TOTALLY did NOT think I was pregnant when I took the test. My fellow life group girls convinced me I should take one, so as to appease them, I went ahead and did it. As I was just chatting with my friend Alyson on the phone, I casually walked into the bathroom to throw away the test. Upon picking it up, I screamed the aforementioned word, proceeded to melt against the bathroom wall and slid to the ground in a heaping mess. This was not supposed to happen. We are poor. We are young. We are unprepared. I wanted to go to EUROPE! I can’t take a baby to Europe! This was so not the plan. God is funny that way.

To my surprise, the idea of having a baby actually grew on me. And grew in me. At our 20 week appointment, we had our big sonogram to find out the sex of the baby and all the other important checks that the doctor has to do to make sure the baby is growing accordingly. When we walked in, the technician said, “Do y’all want to know the sex?” I said, “Well, my husband does, but I don’t want to know.” We were going to have a reveal party that weekend and I wanted to find out with my friends and family. She seemed to understand the statement, but after digging around for the baby parts (or lack thereof) she announced, “Well, it’s definitely a girl!” What the what? Seriously woman? I looked at Clark, and with some attempts at discretion, asked him with my eyes, “Did she not understand? What part of what I said was unclear? Can we start this appointment over?” But in my passive aggressiveness, smiled, laughed and said, “Yay!” Idiot. I really was excited it was a girl… but it was hard to be excited and frustrated at the same time.

Then the actual doctor walked in to do the rest of the tests, basically just to make sure that all the major organs look good. For about 15 minutes he rubbed ALL over my belly with the ultrasound wand thingy and typed things into his fancy computer. He’d zoom in and out and all around and would occasionally say reassuring things like, “Heart rate looks good…” or “Lungs are working fine.” But towards the end, he seemed to be silent for a while. Eventually, he wiped me down and helped me sit up, cleared his throat and informed us that something wasn’t quite right.

He called it a single umbilical artery (SUA) and assured us that it wasn’t that big of a deal, it just meant that we would get to have a lot more sonograms than we normally would “which is fun!” I could tell he’d done this before. Here’s the gist: in the umbilical cord, there should be two arteries and one vein. The blood goes in through the vein and out through the arteries between the placenta and the baby. He kept telling us that of all abnormalities, this is VERY common and the majority of the time there is ZERO effect on the baby. However, there is a small chance that it could cause problems with certain organs (liver, heart, intestines, kidneys) and that the baby could have low birthweight so we will just have to monitor the baby closely throughout pregnancy.

It seemed like a somewhat unsuccessful appointment altogether. Dumb technician. Dumb umbilical cord.

So we had countless appointments to get ultrasounds. Everything looked “perfect” every single time. He kept saying, “It doesn’t look like the single artery is affecting the baby at all.” I’m not really a stresser, and I see this as a blessing. I tend to ere on the side of “everything is going to be fine.” SO throughout the process, I was never really that worried about it and assumed that I would have a wonderful, blissful childbirth with an epidural and no pain and no screaming and a perfect baby and happy tears.

Then, at 35 weeks, we had our final appointment…

and I’ll write about what happens next soon. I’ve already written a novel and that little munchkin baby just woke up from a nap.