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…