Tuesday, July 26, 2011

The (Lengthy) Story of Baby Charlotte's Arrival

What month June was!! I’m finally getting to finish jotting down the full details of our wild ride. Fair warning that this is a very long entry, but these are all details that I will look back on someday and want to remember. I needed to write all this down for myself as much as for anyone else!

It all started at around 37 weeks, when my beloved and much-trusted Dr. May gently suggested that I consider induction around 39 weeks. He didn’t put any pressure on me about it or do anything but explain some good reasons to consider it, given my high-risk status, advanced maternal age (ack!!), etc, and then left it up to me entirely. We’d also had some growth concerns with Charlotte just a couple of weeks earlier, but those had settled back down to normal. Plus, my amniotic fluid level was low - not dangerously so, but borderline - and we'd had one non-reassuring non-stress test. Those were factors to consider.

Now, I am normally anti-inductions and unnecessary interventions. I was induced with Caroline because I was past due and high risk - and I had a good experience with it - but I really had never considered it before my due date. But the more I thought about it, the more it seemed like a fair idea and Dr. May’s reasons made a lot of sense to me. For example, the longer she stayed in there, the greater my risk of developing a blood clot; being on a blood thinner reduced my risk but did not eliminate it. If you didn't know, I have a blood disorder that puts me at a higher than normal risk of clots; it's not an issue in regular life, but it makes my pregnancies high-risk. During pregnancy and post-partum, I have to give myself Heparin injections 2x/day to lower my risk. Fun stuff! My risk is really pretty low on the spectrum, but it's present. It means I have extra tests and monitoring, but it's not really a big deal. Anyway, induction carried virtually no risk and he said it only increased the risk of a c-section by 1%; probably even less in someone like me who’d already had two textbook vaginal deliveries. So, somewhat grudgingly but feeling like it was the right thing to do, I scheduled my induction for Monday, June 13, which was 39 weeks, 3 days. (And hoped I'd go into labor on my own before that!) As it turned out, it was probably a good decision.

Having not gone into labor yet, the plans didn't change and we had to be at the hospital at 6am on the 13th. As with Caroline’s induction, it was surreal to drive to the hospital knowing we’d have a baby in a few hours, even though I wasn’t in labor. (I’d actually had tons of contractions during the night, but they weren’t “real” ones.) (Side note: I like parentheses.) (Maybe a bit too much.) Three kids and only once have I taken the ride to the hospital while actually in labor! We arrived at Franklin Woods, got registered and shown to our room in the Family Birth Center. FW is a brand-new hospital and absolutely gorgeous. It replaced the aging hospital where Caroline was born, and most of the fantastic staff is the same.

Emily and Caroline were happily snoozing at home, with my parents there. We got to our room, settled in and did the usual blood work and other fun stuff. Around 8:00, Dr. Hallman - he was the doctor on call that day - I‘d seen him several times in the office and was comfortable with choosing his call day - came in and broke my water, started the Pitocin drip and off we went. I was only about 1cm dilated when we started the process and the baby was still up fairly high and posterior, so she had a long way to go. (This was opposed to Caroline - at 4 days late, she was lower and I was dilated 3cm before labor even started. It made for a 5 hour process, start to finish!) It was sort of weird because after he broke my water, he couldn’t tell for sure if he’d been successful. It was quite awhile before we could be sure it was broken because very little was coming out when I moved around. Anyway, every half hour, my terrific and adorable nurse Teddi came in and upped my Pitocin.

For the next several hours, not much happened. My Pitocin was steadily increased and I was having regular contractions, but not dilating very rapidly - by noon I was still only about 3 to 4 cm. But I was in no pain at all and very comfortable. The big girls and my parents visited, I listened to my iPod, read a little and surfed the internet through my television in my room. How cool is that?!

By about 2:00, I was finally starting to feel some contractions and I had dilated to 4 to 5 cm - slow progress but at least I was finally headed toward active labor. At one point, Dr. Hallman said I was moving slower than he expected, but it wasn’t a big deal and eventually things would get moving. He was positive, unworried and never started talking about surgery like some doctors might. He knew I was totally opposed to surgery unless it was an emergency situation. (I love labor/delivery way too much to be "robbed" of the experience! Plus I don't like knives!)

Funny aside: Eric left around 1:30 to get something to eat (at my insistence) and on his way back to my room, he ran into Dr. Hallman, who told him I was 4 to 5 cm. Eric walked in and said he predicted I was 4 to 5 cm, trying to make me think he just guessed that. I immediately asked, “Did you see the doctor out there!?” So when the doc came to check me again next, Eric told him that story and also predicted how much more I was dilated. Dr. Hallman said, “If he gets it right again, I’m giving him his Junior ob/gyn badge!” Loved that guy!

At my 4:00 check, I was 6cm - and finally in some real pain. I was also on the highest amount of Pitocin I could have - which I semi-jokingly referred to as the "legal limit" - so my contractions were pretty strong. (By that point, when Teddi would come in and say she was increasing my Pitocin, I would think, “Do you have to?!" Pitocin makes contractions much more intense - and thus more painful. I've had completely natural contractions and I've had Pitocin-enhanced ones...Pit makes them much, much stronger and more regular.) I’d planned to use no pain medication, but I’ve done this enough times to know that anything can happen - I never say never! Eric asked me periodically if I wanted an epidural and I kept saying no.

From 4 to 4:40, I was in a great deal of pain with every contraction - it was intense but never unbearable - it's a blessing of labor that just when you think you can't handle another second, the contraction ends and the pain subsides. By 4:40, I was sure I was nearing 10cm and was starting to have the urge to push, but I wasn’t even able to verbalize it. I didn’t have quite enough time between contractions to do anything but rest up and gather breath for the next one - any other effort was wasted energy. I was totally in the zone...aware of what was going on around me but detached from it and not really able to interact.

Teddi came in about 4:45 and I was in the middle of a contraction, but I heard her say she’d check me again at 5. I was thinking “I’m 10 cm!!! I’m sure of it, please check me now!!” but couldn’t get thoughts to come out of my mouth. I was also thinking “If she comes in here and tells me I’m still 6cm, I’m gonna need some medication!” I was sweating so hard; I had ice cold washcloths on my neck and head to try to cool me down. My sweet hubby could literally feel the heat coming off me and was keeping the washcloths cold for me and doing what he could to help. (Which, of course, wasn’t a whole lot at that point.) He was also watching my contractions on the monitor and announcing when one was beginning (I was thinking, “No kidding!!!”), often marveling at how intense some of them were  - off the charts sometimes - and being amazed that I was tolerating the intensity. What can I say? I'm a beast. I had my iPod on through earbuds and was zapping through my play list, vaguely listening to anything that seemed calming, soothing, inspiring or motivating. I remember listening more than once to the Eagles’ “Waiting in the Weeds” because it is such a beautiful, soothing song with vivid imagery to give me something to think about besides  “ouuuuccccchhhhh!!!!!”  (Although now when I hear that song, it makes me think of pain...)

I watched the clock between contractions, and finally, just before 5, Eric asked me if I felt like pushing. I was so grateful he asked because I definitely did!! I would've just started pushing on my own, but a) it's not good to push if you're not actually full dilated...I worried I wasn't or that I'd push too fast and 2) I was a little worried the baby could come out too quickly and no one would be there to play catcher! Not sure Hubby would stay upright! He ran to tell Teddi. She rushed in and barely started to check me before saying “Woah! You are definitely ready to push, I won’t bug you any more!!“ Yep, I went from 6 to 10 in about 40 minutes...ouch!

In an instant, the room was readied for delivery. The doctor came in, the isolette for the baby was brought in, tools and such were brought out of the woodwork, it seemed. (A light or something really did come down out of the ceiling!) Next thing I know, I’m pushing! I definitely appreciated the speed with which they got ready - knowing I had no pain meds, they worked very quickly. It didn’t take long at all to deliver the babe - maybe 10-15 minutes. Pushing isn’t nearly as painful as contractions before you start pushing - I don’t know why other than that pushing is a relief and something concrete to focus on. I did have a hard time catching my breath in between pushes - for some reason, that’s been hard for me with each baby. I guess in the midst of pain and pushing, I lose my ability to control my breathing or focus on breathing properly. I remember Eric telling me, “You can do it, this is the last time you ever have to push!!” and he made some funny jokes during the process, too, though I appreciated them more after the fact. I also distinctly remember stopping and looking around in between contractions to see all these faces peering expectantly at me. The doctor, 3 nurses, and Eric, all just as calm as can be, and me, sweating like a hog and barely able to breathe!! There was also a funny moment when one of the nurses, who was waiting across the room by the isolette, gazed out the window at the beautiful mountain views and absentmindedly commented, "This sure is a great view..." We all looked at her like "WHAT!?" before she added, "...out the window!" Given her bird's eye view of the pushing process, we were all glad she finished that sentence!!!

Though tired, I managed to summon one last burst of energy and Charlotte Olivia popped right on out into the world at 5:22pm. She weighed 6 lbs 9 oz, was 20 inches long and was, of course, absolutely precious. (I later joked that by the third, they practically fall right out. It’s not true, but it does get easier with each one.) As the nurses got her cleaned up and “tagged” with her bracelet etc, they said her cry sounded strange and they wanted to take her to the nursery where they could assess her a little better. (We could tell that her cry sounded strange - it was sort of hollow or muted sounding.) I got to hold her just briefly before they wheeled her out. I got all cleaned up and all that good after-birth business while Eric called the girls and family members with the good news.

Pretty soon, everybody was cleared out and I definitely felt 100% better than I had an hour earlier. I had cooled down and was comfortable again. Charlotte was still in the nursery, unfortunately, so we were all alone. I was able to eat dinner - I was starved, obviously! - and post the good baby news on Facebook less than an hour after delivery so that many friends could know (I mean, my access was right from my bed! I would've been even faster if the words weren't so tiny all the way up on the screen...it was hard to read what I was typing!). A little later, the girls and my parents came to visit. Charlotte still wasn’t available so they stayed a little bit and then left to eat dinner and came back in a bit. Eric went with them and while they were gone, I got up and washed my face, put on a clean gown and my night nurse changed my bed linens and such. I was much more comfortable with my regular bed; they add a big comfy mattress after delivery - the bottom half of the bed breaks off for delivery, then they fix it afterward so it’s more comfy.

After the family returned, we got to have Charlotte in my room for a little while and take a few pictures and such. The girls were tickled to meet her and she had presents for her big sisters!! Quite the quick shopper, that one! After awhile, mom and dad took the girls home and Eric stayed with me awhile. Later, the neonatologist came in to fill us in on what was going on with Charlotte.

Dr. Bharti was super nice. He explained that Charlotte had air leaks in her lungs - called a pneumothorax. This isn’t terribly uncommon and usually resolves itself within a few days, but babies with this problem are monitored very closely, as it can quickly become very dangerous. Because of the air leaks, her breathing rate was over 100 breaths per minute - 60 or less is normal - it was disturbing to watch her little tummy go up and down that quickly. She couldn’t attempt nursing until her breathing was back within normal range - trying to coordinate her breathing, sucking and swallowing could've put her in distress - so they put a feeding tube in her nose. (They brought me an electric pump and I started pumping every three hours that evening, so they could give her whatever I could produce and so that my milk supply would come in on schedule.) Also, her lungs looked “hazy” on a chest x-ray, which concerned them even though they couldn’t be sure why they were hazy. The regular pediatrician also came by that night and had pretty similar opinions about everything.

Late that night - at least midnight - I was able to go to the nursery and hold Charlotte for awhile. She was in an incubator with lots of wires attached to her, so I had to pull a rocking chair up beside it, leave her attached to everything and the nurse would lift her out and lay her in my arms. I felt so, so sorry for her - evicted from the nice cozy womb into a place where she was constantly being poked and prodded. I felt so guilty at first, wondering if things would've been different if I'd only let nature take its course.

I did “kangaroo care” so she’d have the all-important skin-to-skin contact - I tucked her right inside the top of my hospital gown so she could snuggle on my chest. This remains her favorite place to snuggle - we call it her happy spot! After some time with her, I went back to my room to pump and try to get some sleep. Pumping every 3 hours, I didn’t get to sleep much - I’d pump for 20 minutes, then use little syringes with needles to painstakingly slurp up every drop out of the pump/bottles and then take it to the nursery, then come back, clean all the bottle parts and prep them for the next time. The whole process took about 45 minutes, then I’d go to bed and sleep for about 2 hours before doing it all over again. That first night, I didn't even get to bed until about 2am. (After getting up about 5:00 Monday morning. Long day!) My nurses knew my schedule so they waited until I’d be up pumping if they needed to check on me, so that was a big help! My relatively easy labor and delivery also included an entirely painless recovery and no problems at all - which was a true blessing considering the stress and exhaustion of the next few days. I really didn’t feel at all like I’d just given birth - no pain, soreness, or physical exhaustion - I felt completely normal and not even tired physically. (My nurses kept saying, "Really? Are you SURE you don't want anything for pain?" But I didn't have any pain!) That was a godsend and really helped me to physically survive the rest of the week!!

Breakfast arrived at 7am - I love meals brought to me on schedule! - so I was up early from my scattered, short night of sleep. I got up and showered before the doctor would be in so I was sure not to miss him. That morning (Tuesday), the doctor reported that Charlotte was improving but still not able to nurse or be off any of the monitors. I visited her frequently and held her as much as I could, but I still felt so far away from my sweet baby. They did bring her in for about half an hour around lunch time so the girls could see and hold her. Then, right back to all the monitors. That afternoon, my dear friend Beth and her daughter Marlee visited for a bit - they only got to see Charlotte through the nursery window, but it was a treat for me to see them!

I spent the day visiting Charlotte, trying to rest a little and - of course - pumping. No way was I going to let a bump in the road keep me from nursing my baby! I worried so much that the delay in nursing would make it hard for her to get started - I wasn't going to give up, but I was concerned that it might be quite difficult to succeed. I was thankful I'd already successfully nursed two babies, so I was much more confident about the whole process - but still worried.

I have to mention that the staff at Franklin Woods was downright phenomenal! Every single nurse we met was outstanding. I've already mentioned the wonderful Teddi, but the nurses who cared for me after delivery were all so sweet and helpful and the nursery staff was fantastic. They were very accommodating and welcoming when I visited Charlotte frequently - I never felt like I was in their way or being a bother. One even grabbed my camera and snapped some sweet photos of me holding her - I never would’ve thought of that - and those pics are priceless!! We were so lucky to deliver there. I even saw the terrific nurse who helped deliver Caroline - Katie was so sweet and awesome that I’ve always remembered her. She was off the day Charlotte was born, so we got the fantabulous Teddi instead - they both take the cake as best L and D nurses ever! - but was there the next day and got to see Caroline, too. We could not have been more impressed with the entire staff at FW - everyone was wonderful and supportive, especially when things took a turn for the worse.

That night was much like the one before - I held Charlotte for awhile and then returned to my room. It was almost midnight and I was so sleepy, but I had to pump before bed. I’d found a snack to tide me over til morning (there's really not a hungrier person on earth than a nursing - or pumping - new mama) and I laughed at myself - there I sat in my hospital bed eating a sandwich, pumping and typing on Facebook, all at the same time! My nurse came in and laughed and said, “I’ll come back when you’re finished mutlitasking!” I got a little bit more sleep that night because I got an earlier start on the sleep-wake-pump-sleep cycle.

Wednesday morning, the nurses reported that Charlotte had a good night and seemed to be making progress. I already knew there was no way she’d go home that day, but they’d told me that after I was discharged, I could stay in my same room while she was still there, for as long as needed. (I could come and go anytime, but I could be there with Charlotte 24/7 if I wanted.) We were expecting an extra 3 or 4 days perhaps, but assumed she'd stay at Franklin Woods - I thought our window of needing the NICU was over, but I was wrong.

Since I thought the babe was improving, I was feeling more upbeat until about 9:30 when Dr. Bharti came in. I was glad to be perched on the end of my bed while we talked, because I wasn't at all prepared for his news; he said that though her air leaks were almost gone, her lungs were still hazy and he wanted to move her to the NICU for treatment for pneumonia and because she wasn’t absorbing nutrients well.

I asked how a newborn got pneumonia, since I tend to think of it as something infectious. He said most likely, she swallowed too much amniotic fluid - which is full of protein - and it irritated her lungs. That, combined with her air leaks, just created an environment where pneumonia could develop, but it wasn’t something viral she “caught” from someone. That made me feel more like it was good for her to go ahead and get outta there, not letting the pneumonia continue developing. As for the cause of the air leaks in her lungs, they aren't entirely sure. One theory is that the lungs just hadn't quite finished developing, the other theory is that the huge force of pushing during delivery can actually "pop" holes in the lungs. That theory might explain why a pneumothorax is most often found in a large baby, even though Charlotte is certainly on the small side. The force of pushing is probably stronger in a non-medicated delivery, too.

She looked even worse once she got to the NICU.

I was so upset to hear she’d be moved to NICU because that was at another hospital about 2 miles away and I had no clue if I‘d be able to be with her. They estimated that she’d be there for 5-10 days. But I held it together for a few minutes until I went to see her. I had barely walked in the nursery when Eric, my parents and the girls - none of whom had any idea yet about the NICU move - showed up smiling and waving at the nursery window on their way to my room. I started to cry the minute I saw Charlotte, but I didn't want the girls to see me crying - I didn't want to upset them or make them worry that something worse was wrong - so I tried to hide it and discreetly get them shooed away from the window. Finally they moved so I didn’t have to hide my tears and the ten people offering me tissues!!! I got it together enough to go see the girls but then went back to Charlotte and held her for awhile until the “transport team” arrived from JCMC. All of this happened quite quickly. I went back to my room while they prepped her and they brought her in when she was ready to go.

Nothing quite prepares you for seeing your tiny, 2 day old baby in a huge contraption for transportation in an ambulance. I nearly lost it again when they wheeled her in...I could barely even look at her in that thing without wanting to weep. She still had all of her wires attached but was also covered by a huge black “seatbelt” that went in several directions, keeping her from moving at all while in transit. And she was inside a portable incubator, modified for travel. The whole thing was nearly 6 feet tall. It was awful looking. In the photo below, that's my dad walking behind her...he's just over 6 feet tall, so you can see how tall the whole thing was.

We got to see her for a minute and the terrific nurse explained everything to us, as far as procedures, where she was going, etc. They rolled her out and off to the ambulance, which took her on the short ride to the other hospital. It was strange and sad to think of my tiny baby all alone in a big ambulance - her first car ride wasn't supposed to be like that. But we were left without her. It was excruciating... one of the worst feelings I've ever had.

That day, a couple of friends stopped by to visit us - thanks Michelle and Pam!! They weren’t able to see the baby because she’d already been moved, but it was so nice to see familiar faces. My parents had planned to go home after I got home, but they were more than willing to change their plans and stay as long as needed. They took great care of the big girls and I never worried about them for a minute. It was tough for me to feel torn between my big girls and their needs and the baby, but having my parents to take care of the big girls made it much easier. I still felt bad that I had to be away from them so much more than expected, but knowing they were in good hands meant I could focus on Charlotte as much as possible - and I knew that right then, she needed me more than my big girls. (And they were having so much fun they barely missed me!) We truly could not have made it through the week without my parents and their abundant help and we could never thank them enough!

Soon, the girls and my parents left and Eric left to go to the NICU to see Charlotte after she was settled. I hadn’t been discharged yet but would be as soon as I was ready. I showered and got packed up and waited for Eric to get back. My mind was so exhausted and overwhelmed by everything! I finally left around 3:00. It was so strange and sad to leave without a baby; my arms felt so empty. We headed straight for the NICU.

The first NICU Charlotte was in was a sad place - very sterile, hospital-y and drab, with lots of babies and very little privacy. It was also very secure - we picked up a phone that alerted a nurse inside, told her who we were and we were buzzed in; we had to scrub our hands and arms for 3 minutes after entering, then we were able to see the babe. She was all hooked up to monitors for everything, plus still on oxygen (though it was just precautionary, they didn’t think she really needed it) and her IV had been moved to her foot after falling out of her tiny hand. In the NICU, the incubators were "open air" rather than closed in with "walls," so it was much easier to get close and touch her. She was on IV nutrition only for 48 hours to give her system a chance to settle down. She had been taking a pacifier some and sucking on it pretty well, which I was glad for since it was her only opportunity to suckle. I felt so sorry for her. Poor baby! It broke my heart for her to endure so much so soon. I still find that I feel sorry for her, even though she doesn't remember any of it!

There wasn’t much to do there but stand by her bedside and look at her sad little self, but we were able to hold her as much as we wanted - which was pretty much the whole time, of course. We stayed until we were kicked out for shift change at 5:30 and then met the family for dinner. Let me tell you that after 3 solid days in an extremely quiet hospital environment and under tremendous stress, going to a very noisy restaurant was almost more than I could handle! My senses and nerves were so overwhelmed that I nearly couldn’t take it. I had no idea that noise could bother me so much! I had trouble focusing on anything and my mind was completely in the NICU with Charlotte, though I tried hard to give my big girls as much attention as possible. 

That night was one of the toughest nights of my life - I couldn’t stand being away from my baby! It literally hurt to know that I was home and she was across town in a little incubator all alone. It broke my heart in a way I didn't know was possible. I stayed busy till bedtime, cleaning up and getting the house organized a bit (though Eric and my mom did a great job of keeping it in shape while I was gone, I needed to have some control over something!) and such. Plus I was still pumping every 3 hours, of course. Overnight, I slept pretty well out of sheer exhaustion - finally in my own bed - but was up pumping regularly. And crying…I spent each pumping session in tears because my baby felt so far away and it felt completely wrong that we should be apart. I could have stayed at the hospital with Charlotte, but I would've had to sleep in a small, not-terribly-comfortable chair (like a basic office desk chair!) in a brightly lit ward with virtually no privacy or quiet. I could have done it, of course, but I knew I needed to try to get some sleep for at least one night. There was hope of getting a private room in a day or two, so I decided to take it day by day but spend that first night at home - I was terribly sleep-deprived and exhausted from the stress of the week. I felt terrible that I wasn't with the baby, but I knew I needed some sleep in order to handle the coming days. Though she was sleeping almost all the time due to her medications, I know she KNEW when I was holding her; while she was far too young to process me not being there, she would naturally be more at ease if I were.

I never truly doubted that Charlotte would be okay and everyone reassured me, “She will be fine, she’s in good hands” etc. But what not everyone understood was how hard it was to be separated from her - that’s what was making the ordeal so much more difficult. I knew her health issues were not imminently life-threatening, but being away from her and not knowing for how long was the hardest part. I knew she was in great hands, but I never expected to be physically separated from my newborn baby - it was my toughest parenting experience ever. I was constantly aware of how much worse it could have been and grateful her issues were less serious than many - we didn't fear for her life, weren’t facing months in the hospital and there were no long-term effects expected - but it was still a huge emotional challenge.

In those days and the ones after, we had SO many people supporting us and praying for our sweet Charlotte. We really, truly felt the love and prayers. My sister even shared the story with a lot of her friends around the country and we received cards and notes from several of them - so sweet!! I don't think I will ever understand why God heals some babies and not others - there are so many things we cannot understand or know the reasons for - but we are so grateful that it was His will to heal her. I believe God works through doctors and gives them the knowledge and ability to help heal patients, and they were wonderful. We truly felt His healing touch on Charlotte and we truly felt lifted up by the prayers and thoughts of so many people. As tough as the whole thing was, we never felt alone. And as always, Eric was my rock - he never lets me down and always makes me feel better. This was another one of many, many things I never could have made it through without him by my side. He is the absolute best.

In the morning, we were up and out the door by 9:30 on our way to the NICU. We stayed with Charlotte until we were kicked out around noon when they had a new admission in - they got everyone out for those and that one in particular was a really serious case with lots of extra people and equipment. While we were waiting to return, two friends brought lunch to us - thanks Chris and Chance! Beth's sweet hubby Mike also visited that day and got to see Charlotte.

We were able to get back to Charlotte around 1 and I was even allowed to try nursing. She didn’t do much but at least we tried! (I didn't have to wait the 48 hours they'd said the day before.) The big girls and my parents visited in the afternoon - 2 at a time, as we were limited to 4 people visiting total, including us, at any time. (Siblings were the only children allowed to visit.) Sweet Caroline went up to Charlotte and sang "Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star" to her! What a sweet moment. Emily laid her finger on Charlotte's palm and Charlotte reflexively closed her fingers around Emily's - boy, did that make Em's day! She told everyone about that and we made a big deal about it because she didn't do that to anyone else! Emily is our extremely sensitive child and she was definitely a bit scared of all that was going on, so we were grateful for anything like that helped make her more comfortable. She's old enough to understand that something was wrong with the baby and all the adults were very stressed about it, but not old enough to grasp that everything really would be okay soon; Caroline is happy-go-lucky anyway, but also too young to understand the gravity of the situation.

We left about 3:00 to come home and rest a bit before returning - the NICU environment was exhausting and overwhelming. About 4:30, the NICU nurse called and asked if we could come back over because Charlotte was being moved to the (newer) Niswonger Children's Hospital NICU (adjacent to JCMC) with private rooms, meaning I could stay with her 24/7! I wasn’t even going to believe it until I saw it, but we ran back over to the hospital right away. When we got there, we weren’t allowed into the NICU for about 30 minutes because of an admission - it was frustrating because they asked us to get there by 5 and we broke our necks to make it and then we weren’t even allowed in! Finally, we were let in and she’d already been moved, so they showed us to the newer NICU. Charlotte looked about the same except for having her IV in the top of her head now…that nearly killed me! (Just being real here: I was quite glad to have missed that particular procedure...don't think I could've handled it without needing an IV myself.)

But WOW. What a huge difference!!! It was a brand-new, gorgeous NICU wing with private rooms - each room had all the equipment needed for the baby’s care plus a couch/bed for a parent, a recliner, bathroom, tv, etc. I was so ecstatic!!!! I would be able to stay by Charlotte’s side for as long as she was there...I don’t know when I’ve ever felt such relief!! We stayed for a bit, I was able to feed her again - and that time she did much better - then we left to have dinner with the family and pick up what I needed from home so I could stay at the hospital. Mom and Dad brought me back a couple of hours later so they could see her and I barely left Charlotte’s side again.

I was still pumping AND feeding every 3 hours, sometimes simultaneously since she wasn’t taking in that much at once. In between feedings overnight, I slept on the surprisingly comfortable couch/bed, but of course there were lots of interruptions - nurses checking Charlotte’s vitals regularly and even a chest x-ray around 4am! Plus every time I'd just about be settled and asleep, some montior would start beeping. But we were together so I didn’t care if I didn’t sleep a wink! The big girls could only visit once a day for about 15-30 minutes, so Eric was mostly with them rather than me. Mom and Dad ran home overnight Friday to restock their medications, get more clothes, etc and returned Saturday morning. It was very quiet because I was alone with Charlotte a majority of the time, but I was never bored at all! Despite the circumstances, it was a precious chance to spend time with Charlotte in a way I wouldn't have been able to at home, where so much else would have been going on. I'm grateful for that quiet, calm time with her - it was one of several silver linings of the enormous cloud over us that week!

The nurses in the Niswonger NICU were so fantastic - Katherine was our main night nurse and she was outstanding and so sweet. We really had wonderful nurses at every point in our ordeal and the neonatologists (Dr. Bharti and Dr. Shah) were superb. We met so many nice people - 2 different ladies who worked there live in our neighborhood - one we’ve seen out walking her dog since then, and she stopped to ask how Charlotte was.

Friday was more of the same - pumping/feeding, lots of kangaroo care and resting. Beth visited that day and was so thrilled to hold Charlotte. And there was also wonderful news within 24 hours of being in the new NICU - Charlotte’s air leaks were completely gone, her pneumonia was gone, her feeding tube was removed and her IV was removed! We were so happy and excited and had the possibility of going home the next day. She did have a fierce diaper rash they attributed to the antibiotic she was on for the pneumonia. It required a prescription-strength rash cream and took about a week to clear up.

Friday night was much calmer for us because Charlotte had fewer monitors on. We had also progressed to feeding on demand rather than on a set schedule, so we could theoretically get more sleep. But Miss Charlotte decided that night that the only way to sleep was cuddled up on Mommy’s chest, so I spent most of the night in the recliner with her laying on me. (It was the only place to sit/lie down with her because it was beside her bed and she was still attached to some monitors.) I had worried that she wouldn’t be much of a snuggler because she had so little cuddle time in her first few days - but she has definitely made up for lost time and can’t stand to NOT be cuddled! That night, while snuggled up with Charlotte, I felt a powerful sense of peace...I truly felt the healing presence of Jesus in that room.

Charlotte also passed her car seat challenge that evening - she had to sit in her car seat for an hour while being monitored to ensure that the more upright angle didn’t cause her any problems with her breathing, heart rate, etc. She passed just fine! She was still breathing a bit rapidly when she’d get angry (like when we changed her diaper or she was poked and prodded), but when she was calm, she was within normal range.

The next morning, I waited a long time for the doctor to visit but he finally did around 11:30...and said the magic words: “She can go home!” Dr. Shah also said, “I told your husband 5 to 10 days…we beat that!” He said it truly looked as if she had never had any problems - she seemed like a totally normal newborn. I was so happy that we were on the road to bringing our baby girl home! The actual births of my babies notwithstanding, that was the happiest moment of my life!!

By the time we got everything done (lots of paperwork and other clearances) and were ready to go home, it was at least 2:30. There was a driving rainstorm but who cared!? We were going home!! Charlotte had her hospital picture made before we left and we headed for home! Emily had gone to VBS all day with a friend and wouldn’t be home till after 4. She didn’t know for sure that Charlotte and I would be getting home that day, so she was happy to see us.

Ready to go home!

Later, we all went out for dinner and afterward, Eric and I had to stop by the NICU to pick up the phone charger I’d accidentally left in my room. Emily and Caroline came home with my parents and when we got back, we had a big surprise party waiting! Emily had spent ages planning a welcome home party for us - she did such a great job!! There was the cutest banner EVER, handmade by Emily, streamers, balloons, cake, presents, etc - she went all out!! Grandma had helped her with everything, but all the ideas were hers. What a babe! We had a fun party and then our first night home with Charlotte was just great. We were just so happy to have all 5 of us in the same place.

Emily's banner, which now hangs in Charlotte's room!

We had such a wild ride that week - so much joy and so much stress and worry, too. I felt so very low when they took Charlotte to the NICU and felt such enormous relief and joy when we were cleared to bring her home. So many ups and downs, highs and lows, in one short (but also long!) week.

Since we’ve been home, we’ve settled in beautifully and stayed busy - for better or worse, we’ve barely missed a beat. The big girls have gone to VBS and swim lessons, we spent a week with my family and now it’s almost time to return to school. (Ugggghhhh…a schedule!!) Charlotte is such a good baby and so incredibly sweet. One of the blessings of her ordeal is that she will never remember any of it - and we thank God for that. We’ll never forget the sights and sounds and emotions of that week - I’m scarred for life!! - but luckily she has no memory of anything. (And incidentally, I'm still grateful for any meal that does not come from a hospital cafeteria!)

She’s a great sleeper - IF she’s near mom. Put her down in her bassinet, crib, etc, and she’ll be awake within 10 minutes (usually less). Lay her on or by mom and she’ll sleep for hours!! The big sisters have adjusted well and love to kiss, hold and coo at baby sissy. They both suddenly seem so much bigger and older because I subconsciously compare them to this tiny infant!

Charlotte has the sweetest disposition and she’s very calm and laid back. She sleeps a lot, but when she’s awake and alert, she’s very calm. She’s been smiling and cooing a bit recently, too. We are so blessed, so complete and so grateful to have her here, healthy and home!