Birth Story Three

My goodness. I am glad that I started writing when I did and let myself stop when I needed a break. I finished writing a few minutes to midnight on New Years Eve, I checked on Ellen, pulled back my covers, kissed my sleeping husband a Happy New Year, snuggled in, and fell asleep (for all of three hours, because newborn).

Since then, all of the time I would have spent writing was spent celebrating Christmas, New Years Day, and battling a very severe rash down under. Just the external bits, mind you. It turned up after a week of wearing thick pads that just trap moisture. Ice helps. Sits baths and baking soda rinses help. Baby powder helps. Airing it out helps. But any spray that advertises relief from itching burning pain is just a can of fiery living hell. At this point, I’ve got the itching under control, I think, but the skin is sore, red, and inflamed from me scratching. I need time to heal. Suggestions welcome!

We’re about two-thirds done with the whole story but the twists and turns are, unfortunately, not done. I can’t make this stuff up. They are significantly less dramatic, however. Mostly because they happened to Nick, not my perspective.

I last left off on Christmas Eve.

We video chatted, George was fascinated by his sister. He recognized her right away, pointing to the tiny screen and repeating “sister! sister!” as quickly as an excited toddler with a small lisp can move his little mouth. “It’s Ellen!” also shattered my heart, hearing George fail to pronounce the difficult “L” sound in her name. Oh, what have I done?! Two kids under two and I chose names with “R” and “L” sounds in the name, I’m torturing these children!

Nick stayed focused when George was on screen. You need quick reflexes when a toddler is sharing your phone, so there wasn’t too much emotion. On Christmas Eve after George had gone to bed Nick and I spoke on video. My husband, alone at home, wept at the sight of his daughter on a screen and made a mantra out of “you’re okay, she’s okay.”

In the dark morning of Christmas Day, Kris said goodbye to me because finally she was being relieved and sent home after four straight nights in the ER. Every staffer in the ER had been trapped by the Blizzard of ’22 for days. My incredible heroes were exhausted and running on vapors. I could see it. It worried me a little bit, because was I getting the best care? No and yes. They didn’t have the specific training to know how to care for a premie and mother confidently, so no, but the adrenaline and passion compensated, so yes. I saw them working as a team. Helping one another, sharing food an naps in turn. Making sure one another was supported and relieved and everything was so well communicated.

Dr. Jordan was relieved in the morning of December 25, 2022. His colleague was taking over, and they met with me in person to make sure that I knew I was in good hands.

Laura was my next nurse. She walked in to the hospital to relieve her coworkers. The blizzard had mostly stopped by Christmas morning. But snow drifts sometimes reached the second story of houses. In other places, bare grass was frozen in different wind-whipped directions. Laura trudged in just to take care of me, it seemed. We made good friends and she snuggled my little Ellen Rose every time I needed to get up and use the toilet. By the afternoon I was bored and missing my family. We made it through, there was no rush or panic, but the snow had us separated. Nick and I might as well have been on different coastlines for the amount of time it would take to get to one another safely.

Christmas day went slowly. The food was not good; portions were miniscule. I snacked. I hydrated. I rested. I snuggled my daughter and napped. I hung out at the nurses’ station with Ellen. I nursed my girl a couple of times. Ellen has such a good latch. She was born with great instincts.

By six in the evening my ER doctor burst into the room and said that he had transportation to Millard Fillmore Suburban. Music to my ears! That was exactly where I needed to be: my pediatricians, my obstetrician, and a battery of L&D staff giving around-the clock care. Better than Oishei at this moment, because Millard Fillmore Suburban is in the suburbs of Buffalo, and there’s much more room to plow and remove snow so that cars can maneuver. Whereas downtown Buffalo, at Oishei, the streets are narrow and sometimes inaccessible to plows, and street parking is permitted, all of which means there’s less space to displace the multiple feet of snow. Its simply riskier for travel downtown. And the risk to my life and Ellen’s life was largely passed, so we didn’t necessarily need the cutting edge facility.

An ambulance crew were about to clock out and agreed to make one last run for me. Several EMT, paramedic, highway departments were doing a similar thing: employees were called in for their shift, but they were told not to drive in. A rig would pick them up at their house, they would have a bag packed with 3 days of clothes and their toothbrush, and then they would work their shift (rescuing, providing first aid, or plowing), return to the station for an eight-hour rest, then have another shift. So this crew wasn’t heading home for another day; they’d get an extra bit of pay to help a fresh baby and her mama out.

There was suddenly a flurry of activity for 90 minutes to finish charting my stay, transfer it to Millard, find the placenta, find the meconium poop samples (both for cancer and pregnancy research), and create a birth certificate. We ended up not making a birth certificate at Kenmore Mercy, they simply didn’t have the template paperwork. Have I mentioned that this hospital does NOT service babies, fetuses, or their pregnant mothers? All is well with her documentation, though. The birth certificate paperwork at Millard had a section asking about the place of birth. I’ll have to make sure that I clarify which city she’s born in, that’ll be tricky, I bet.

I was tense getting in the back of the ambulance. I asked both of them to drive extra carefully. I was anxious the whole drive there. If you recall, just eight days ago, I had been in the back of an ambulance when it was T-boned. Talk about exposure therapy and getting right back on that horse. When we turned in to the hospital entrance I exhaled loudly and then asked if they had noticed I was tense. They had noticed. I smiled and led with: “do you know Jay and AJ from your company? The ones who were in the crash last weekend?” Their eyes got wide and realized that I was not only the lady who got a ride in the SWAT Humvee to deliver a baby in the Blizzard of ’22, I was also that lady from the T-bone incident! “Wow! What a story you have!” They don’t even know. I told them I’m looking forward to not needing so much medical attention in 2023.

(By the way, Jay and AJ are alright after the crash. Apparently they were the new guys on the job, and they had been assigned an old model rig to drive around. I wonder, since it was so obviously not their fault, if the administrators were able to get a shiny new ambulance from insurance out of the accident. Hey, silver linings.)

I arrived at eight o’clock on Christmas Day, and by the end of the 25th, I had seen my obstetrics nurse, Ellen’s nurse, a pediatrician, and two obstetricians. They said that standard protocol is a 24 hour stay in the hospital for observation, so I tucked in for a two night stay. Plus, there was still a travel ban, and it was snowing again.

Digging out would take days, and the next weekend would be 50 and sunny. The contrast seemed to mock to the people who worked tirelessly day and night to clear roads, parking lots, sidewalks, and driveways. Whereas mother nature shut down the City of Good Neighbors, and she got it opened back up seven days later. The only remnants of the snow storm are the snow drifts piled five to ten feet tall left by plows. Had people not needed to move snow to get groceries, make furnace repairs, get medical care, or get essential workers to their posts, the storm would have left no mark on Western New York. Still, you’ll hear myself and many native Buffalonians pick blizzards over hurricanes or tornadoes.

My stay at Millard Fillmore Suburban was mostly uneventful. Ellen continued to do great, and I was putting my feet up to fight off the swelling. The food was also not great, but it was hotter than the ER meals. I suddenly realized the reason for the disappointing portions: the storm had likely blocked nutrition delivery trucks to the hospital; all of the patients, boarders, nurses, administrators, doctors, and staff were sharing rations. Both hospitals were doing their best to feed hundreds of people with goodness knows what sort supply and no way of knowing when the next delivery could make it in.

Nick finally arrived to meet his daughter 48 hours after Ellen was born. He burst through the door to my room bundled in heavy down coat, hat, and surgical mask with bags and car seat crashing against the door frame. I didn’t recognize him; his energy was so urgent, so tense, plus I didn’t have my glasses this whole time, so his face was a blur to me. I was seated with a fork of rice forgotten halfway to my mouth facing my husband. I only recognized him when he dropped his luggage stripped out of his coat and began weeping all at once. He pointed into the basinet, asking wordlessly if this was really his child. And I nodded. Nick had to brace himself with two hands as waves of relief knocked him off balance.

She’s tiny.

She’s okay? She’s okay.

You’re okay?

She’s so small.

I can’t believe it. We’re all okay.

We cried together and hurried to bring each other up to speed. Each development he had for me was more wild than the last. George was with my parents. They had all ignored the travel bans to help get me reunited. His car had thrown two errors on the way to the hospital; it was not safe to drive us home. We were stranded together with Ellen at the hospital until we could get discharged and a safe ride home. We might have to board for a night if we can’t get out because of weather, car trouble, or complication. Ellen’s right ear needs a BAER hearing test in six weeks’ time; she’s otherwise perfect. Oh, also Nick’s hand was broken.

The rest of the day was spent in a glowy haze of snuggles. It was happily interrupted by making plans for our discharge and return home. We hustled to make arrangements for the research samples of placenta and poop, and complete the birth certificate paperwork, and review the discharge instructions.

They sent us home at five in the evening. My dad came to drive us home. Roads were clear and safe, snow had stopped, police were not ticketing even though the ban still in effect. We got home safely, sent grandpa on his way, and settled in for our first night with a newborn in 22 months. We did great.

My birth plan was always just for me and my child to survive. I did just that. Everything else was flexible. Be careful what you wish for, you might just get it.

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