Throughout most of my pregnancy, I had a hunch that Baby M was going to come early. There really weren't any signs that I could point to, but for some reason I just had a feeling. Call it maternal instinct, I guess. I'll start the story on Monday, January 12th, when I was just barely 35 weeks pregnant. That whole day at work I felt "off" and went home that night with stomach troubles and a massive headache. Even though I was feeling pretty yucky, Jeremy suggested that we put together and "play" with all the new baby items we received at our baby shower over the Christmas holiday. So that night, we put together the Pack n' Play (which was delivered earlier that day), the stroller and the car seat. In fact we took tons of pictures so that I could do a blog posting about all the preparations we were making for baby. It was so exciting and made everything feel so real, that it actually made me forget about how awful I was feeling. So after taking a bath to help relax some persistent Braxton Hicks contractions, we went to bed.
Baby M was born at 3:27 p.m. on Tuesday, January 13th, weighing 5lbs, 8oz.
One of the most unforgettable moments for me was when the doctor told us that we were the parents of a beautiful baby girl! I was so shocked and overjoyed, that I immediately started bawling. I was convinced that we were having a boy, but was elated to find that we in fact had been blessed with a little Maribelle Rose (and I was so excited about the name we had chosen!). That moment confirmed for me that not knowing the sex of the baby for nine months is probably one of the coolest parts of being pregnant. It made for THE MOST exciting, thrilling and beautiful moment of my life. I wouldn't trade that moment for anything.
When we had to leave her in the NICU that night and return to our hospital room without our baby, I just remember how crushed I felt. It was a feeling I hadn't felt before -- my heart literally ached at the emptiness that I felt knowing that I wasn't pregnant anymore, yet I wasn't able to be with the baby we had been longing to meet for the past 35 weeks. I didn't sleep at all that night and just tossed and turned and paced our hospital room. And unfortunately, that night wasn't the worst of it, as Maribelle ended up having to spend two very long weeks in the NICU.
Her RDS ended up getting much more severe in the first three days, and they ended up administering a synthetic form of surfactant to her lungs via intubation (surfactant is a sort of lubrication that keeps the lungs inflated during breathing. Some babies don't start producing it on their own until 37 weeks, which is why Maribelle experienced RDS). She also received a round of antibiotics for an infection and had to be put under the bili lights for jaundice. Poor baby was hooked up to so many machines and spent most of the time in one of those little incubator boxes. Jeremy and I stayed in the hospital four nights, and then had to travel back and forth two to three times a day to visit Maribelle while she stayed in the hospital. Although my hands were tied and my role as mom was put on hold for a few weeks, I faithfully pumped breast milk as earnestly as I could. It was all that I could do, and I felt so proud to be able to drop off bottles of milk to the nurses. At that point it was one of the few things I could do to fulfill my new role as mom. Every time we approached the NICU doors, though, my heart would start pounding in fear of what new problem we had to face that day. There would be good days when we'd get to hold her, or give her a bath, or see those beautiful eyes of hers, and then there would be bad days when her oxygen saturation had to go back up to a higher level and we were only allowed to touch her through the arm holes in the incubator. While I was a nervous wreck most of the time, Jeremy was the complete opposite -- cool and confident that everything would be alright. Jeremy would sit there and read nursery rhymes to her through the incubator windows or sing to her one of his silly songs. He could sit there for hours just looking at her, glowing like a proud papa. During Maribelle's last week in the hospital, my mom came to stay with us and literally kept me sane. She cooked, cleaned, accompanied me during hospital visits and told me that everything would be alright (she went through the same situation with my sister Jamie, who also had to stay in the NICU for two weeks due to underdeveloped lungs). If it wasn't for Jeremy and my mom, I think I would have had a nervous breakdown and been placed in a hospital myself. The nurses that we had at the hospital were also amazing, and I truly believe there is a special place in heaven for those women. They were so patient and so willing to answer our millions of questions. And they treated Maribelle like a little princess, dressing her up in girly outfits and putting bows in her hair.
(This is one of my favorite pictures. It was the day before Maribelle was discharged and the first day we were able to hold her without any wires or tubes up her nose. One of the final tests that Maribelle had to pass was being able to take all feedings by breast or bottle. So the NICU staff gave us a room to ourselves for the entire day so that we could feed and hug her in hopes of bringing her home soon.)
After two long weeks, Maribelle met all the benchmarks that the NICU set for her, and we were finally, finally able to take her home with us and treat her like a real, normal baby. Aside from a heart murmur, she thankfully doesn't have any lasting problems or issues that need to be followed in the years to come. That's not to say I don't still worry about every little thing and recount her birth story over and over again. I swear some days I can still hear the beeping and honking sounds of the NICU monitors and smell that sterile hospital smell, as if everything just happened yesterday. But looking at her now, you would never know the crazy two weeks our little family went through back in January (although one look at the gray hairs on my head should give you a clue). There are moments when I look at her big, beautiful eyes, her perfect little button nose, her pouty little mouth and her adorable little baby butt and remember those days, and it just makes me appreciate motherhood and our beautiful little girl that much more.