I’m not going to shift direction in this blog too much. I never wanted to be one of those parents that only ever talks about being a parent and I’m sure that you’re not here to listen to stories about my precious baby. So I promise that I’m going to keep my gushing and fawning over parenthood to a minimum – let’s say one week, and then I’ll go back to complaining about movies.
In fact, if things went as we originally expected / planned, then I’d probably just keep it all to one post. But I guess somebody wanted me to have a story in addition to a baby, so now I’ll tell you about both.
On the morning of November 17, 2014, Stephanie woke up from painful contractions. Actually, it’s more apt to say she woke up from “pains she didn’t understand.” One of the many curiosities we enjoyed(?) during pregnancy was that it was hard to really figure out what a contraction felt like. Even after a few hours, Steph wasn’t totally ready to call it “labor,” so I went into work and told her to keep me posted.
A few hours later, it turned out the pains were definitely new. So we packed up and headed to the hospital, a terrifying ½ mile journey north of our house. We parked and made our way to the maternity ward where I kept waiting for the clichés to take over.
And then the waiting started.
Next surprise: Dad waits even longer. After we finally got Steph checked in, she was taken back to a prep room while they asked me to wait in the lobby. I was told that I’d be allowed to head in after about 15 minutes. Steph gave me a frightful, nervous look as she disappeared into the ward – kind of like she was about to be retired in Logan’s Run – and I went to sit down for another half hour.
When a nurse finally did come to get me, I was escorted to a bustling delivery room full of maybe 12-15 doctors and nurses. Machines were beeping like crazy, everybody was chattering over top of one another, and Steph was strapped down to a table and broadcasting her most intense, “Everybody back the hell away from me now” face. Nobody said anything to me for the first couple minutes.
Then a cheerful doctor came and introduced herself to me and said, “Mom and Baby have a high heart rate. We’re a little concerned.” And she smiled and left.
High heart rate? Since when? Every checkup, every exam, every assessment to date – and there had been dozens by this point – was clean. They kept telling us the baby was the picture of perfect health.
After fighting my way through the crowd of doctors to get to Steph’s side, I held her hand and her heart rate almost immediately lowered. So, third surprise: doctors didn’t seem to realize that pouring even more doctors into a room with a patient who didn’t want to be touched was probably not a good way to reduce stress.
But there was a problem. Even though Steph’s rate had gone down, the baby’s was still high. So another doctor introduced herself – maybe the sixth or so doctor by this point to do so – and said, “We recommend an immediate cesarean.”
Neither Steph nor I much care for hospitals or really medical care in general, but we’re also not stupid. If a doctor recommends something, we usually trust that they know what they’re doing. So as devastating as it was to hear, Steph consented and they took her off to another room to prep for surgery.
Surprise number four: Dad still has to wait.
They carted me off to a deserted hallway in the back of the hospital next to the back entrance to an O.R. I was told to have a seat in the single, lonely chair that had been ostracized from society in the isolation chamber that was the back entrance. They would come to get me soon - or so I was told, anyway.
“Soon” turned out to be… well, I don’t know. I didn’t have my phone on me at that time. I’m going to say it was another half hour, but I don’t really know for sure. All I know is that I had plenty of time to sit, wonder, and wait. The worst thoughts came and went and I realized that I actually knew almost nothing about Stephanie’s present case. Was this just another case of doctors thinking I’m too damn stupid to grasp the situation? Did they think it was in my best interest that I be kept completely in the dark? I’m not an idiot, guys. I’ll stay out of your way. I just want to be next to my wife to make sure I can hold her hand in what could be the most stressful moment of her life to this point.
So after despairing for a long time, I was finally allowed to sit next to Steph and provide the most minimal of comfort I could think / was capable of: poking my fingertips into her elbow. Steph kept apologizing; the anesthesia made her nauseous and she had vomited. She didn’t want me to be grossed out.
The procedure went fine. The baby was delivered, Steph didn’t actually bleed all that much, and they stitched her up without an issue.
Then surprise number five: Mom and Dad don’t get to see the baby.
The doctors carted our little one off immediately. Another doctor leaned in at one point and said, “If you look over to your right, you can kinda see her.” Helpful advice. Pro-tip: turn right and you’ll see your baby! Keep that in mind in the O.R., parents-to-be.
I asked, “Is she okay?”
And the doctor, almost shrugging, said, “Yeah, probably. But she's too hot right now and it could fry her brain.”
Surprise number six: Even after all the gooey, saccharine parent training videos that Johns Hopkins Hospital asks prospective parents to watch, even after all the motivational speeches and reassurances and talk about “understanding your emotional state,” even after Steph and I repeatedly joked that OB/GYN must be where all the hippie doctors wind up because every nurse we’d ever talked to seemed to be a wishy-washy weirdo who talked down to us like children… surgeons still can’t be expected to have much tact.
Steph and I were sent to a recovery room where we were informed that our daughter had been transported to the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU). There wasn’t much detail as to why. I can only guess that the NICU staff was still trying to make sure the baby was okay before they could provide any detail, but nobody said as much – we were just left to keep guessing.
About an hour later, they gave us good news. And that’s where surprise seven comes in: “good news” is basically just the hospital’s term for “news.” Our daughter was in basically good shape… except that she was blue and limp when they pulled her out, her blood pressure was a little low, her body temperature was fluctuating, they weren’t sure if she was getting enough oxygen, and they were still deeply concerned about what had caused the initial spike in her heart rate. They expected her to stay in the NICU for no less than 48 hours, but most likely for seven days.
That was when they let me go back to see her for the first time:
Nah, I'm not going to show you the first picture of her. It's too depressing. Try this one instead:
Lulabelle Josephine Chiappelli.
Read more in my follow-up posts:
Obligatory Baby Post 2: Despair and Hope
Obligatory Baby Post 3: Home Care
Update on 3/19/15: It's amazing how communication can get dulled or even severed when there's an emergency going on. It's been four months since Lulabelle was born and we didn't really get a better picture of what happened to her until recently. Rereading my posts on this subject, I realize that I never actually said what the physical problem was - mainly because we didn't actually know that ourselves until just a couple of weeks ago.
So, here's the short version of it. Just before Lulabelle's birth, Stephanie contracted a placental infection. From all that has been explained to me in follow-up reading and discussions with medical staff, I understand this is one of those unpredictable things that just happens sometimes. It's usually not fatal, but that's mainly because it's normally detected in a clinical setting where doctors can intervene. If not caught in time, it can easily lead to major, permanent health problems for the baby - or death.
In our case, it was nearly the latter. Lulabelle was born without a pulse or respiration and had an Apgar score of only 2. Or, as one of her doctors later casually remarked to us while reading from her computer, "Oh, yeah, looks like she had a rough start, huh? Blue in the face, floppy, no breathing, no heartbeat.... huh. Well, looks like she's happy now!"
Needless to say, finding out that way was more than a little bit shocking. We knew things were bad, but not that bad.
Knowing that Lula was virtually stillborn has really put things in perspective. You know how prospective parents will say things like, "We just hope the baby's healthy," and it seems like some corny sentiment? So much so that Garfunkel and Oates put it into one of their shitty songs? And maybe you think it's a cliche or a superficial nicety, so you just kind of take the baby's health for granted?
Then you realize that we're all insignificant bags of meat subjected mercilessly to the whims of a massively deadly universe that's hurling threats at us randomly and repeatedly every moment of our existence. For a baby, the most vulnerable life form there is, to survive that and even thrive is one of the most awe-inspiring calls to action you can ever get.
So... yeah, I do just hope she stays healthy. Everything else is inconsequential. So what if her weight is a little too high or a little too low? So what if she's got that weird bald spot on her head? So what if she isn't as tall or as fast or as smart or as anything compared to the baby next to her? She's still alive and she still has time. Hell, I don't even know how tall she is right now because it just doesn't matter. Like 20-something inches. Who cares?
Here, enjoy a picture of her smiling.
Now go hug someone you love and enjoy your day. You're alive, dammit.