Giving birth to life: The birth of Zoe Nicole
“That was a nice long shower,” my husband groggily says to me as I step out of the en suite bathroom while he still lay in bed. “What time is it?”
“It’s 4:30 a.m.” I respond as I dry off my big belly and proceed to squeeze into my maternity clothes one last time. “I couldn’t sleep. I didn’t sleep.” I say out loud as I think about the last few hours spent tossing and turning in the late periods of the evening that turned to morning as I spent my final night of pregnancy constantly feeling for her, waiting for her to move, praying she was still alive in my waterbed of a uterus.
I feared she would too die in there during the moments before her arrival like her sister did 15 months earlier. I couldn’t let that happen again, so I spent the night and the many nights in the week before lying awake waiting and counting her kicks. They were the only thing that brought me periods of reassurance and peace from the overwhelming fear that it, the death of my baby in the womb and the delivery of a lifeless child, might happen again.
“Do you mind if we get going to the hospital early?” I ask my husband as I keep one hand on my large belly, continually vigilant of the baby and her activities inside of me in those final hours of pregnancy as we begin to venture to the hospital for the scheduled C-section that is to be performed in a mere five hours.
Nick nods and answers my question by throwing his sheets off to the side and stepping out of bed making his way to the shower. As we continue to get ready to leave for the hospital, a twinge of hope floats into my heart and pushes away the overbearing fear and anxiety that has lived there during most of my pregnancy. I listen to this voice and out of my mouth I hear myself asking Nick as he finishes getting dressed to do the unthinkable. I ask him to put the baby’s car seat in the car.
Now, this is a big deal. You see, coming home with an empty car seat after my first daughter died was torture. I swore to myself that I was not going to do that again, no way, no how. So for the entire pregnancy I told everyone and especially my husband that we were not going to bring the car seat to the hospital the day of her delivery. To me the car seat was a symbol of failure and defeat and a reminder of the pain of losing a child. I didn’t want to jinx myself by bringing it with. But in that moment, I had a change of heart. Maybe this time around taking the car seat was a symbol of hope and belief that baby No. 2 would come home.
After Nick packed up the car we were off to the hospital. During the ride my hands never lingered from my swollen belly. We would slow to a stop and I would notice a kick and proclaim, “I felt her.” Nick would turn a corner and drive over a pothole, which would wake baby inside and I would say, “She just moved.” Nick was not annoyed by my play-by-play broadcasting updates of baby’s activities during our 30 minute drive, instead he always lovingly responded with, “Good” or “Keep kicking little girl.”
We arrived at the hospital early and knew exactly where to go as this was probably our 20th time to Labor and Delivery in the last nine months as my over anxious self visited for every aliment and worry under the sun. They knew me by name and upon arrival a few nurses even waved and said, “Nice to see you again. Today is the BIG day!” I nodded back with a sense of half pride and disbelief that I made it to this day, half fear about the events of the day ahead and with a twinge of embarrassment that baby and me were famous among the nursing staff in the maternal assessment department we had been there so much.
“Sorry we are so early. I’m just really anxious.” I unnecessarily apologized to the receptionist upon checking in. She smiled and reassured me that even without having had a loss like mine, it’s pretty typical for parents to arrive early on the day of a planned C-section. “Everyone’s naturally anxious on a day like today,” she states and eases my heart a bit.
After checking in, Nick and I settle into our assessment room and I change into my surgery attire. While doing this I am pacing around the small room, trying to make jokes about my ginormous paper gown with air pockets in the arm pits to distract from the real elephant in the room—fear and PTSD setting in. This is the moment Nick and I have been dreading. The moment I was more afraid of then the birth, the moment when the nurse comes in on the day of delivery and tries to find the baby’s heartbeat with the Doppler. You see, this is the moment, 15 months earlier where parenthood stopped with the words, “I’m sorry” and “No Heartbeat.”
The nurse, Greta, who I have met before, smiles and says, “Remind me, what is the baby’s name?” in an attempt to calm my nerves. “Zoe. It means life” I curtly reply as I am focused on getting through the next two torturous seconds of hearing or not hearing Zoe’s heartbeat.
“I love the name.” She says and then along with Nick and me she holds her breath as she places the Doppler on my belly and turns the volume on the machine up to ‘high’ so that baby’s heartbeat will be loud and clear, if there is one.
With our breath still held we hear “blub, blub, blub” break the deafening silence of the room and the next noise to be heard is the loud exhale of relief all three of us let out. My face lit up with a smile of delight and liberation as I reach for Nick’s hand as slight tears form in his reassured eyes.
That was the hard part.
That was the true test for us to pass. The baby was still alive and I think to myself we might have a shot at delivering a live child and bringing her home this time!
The next hour and half pass quickly. Family comes and goes to wish us luck before the big moment. My doctor visits, the anesthesiologist stops in, other nurses come to prep me for surgery, and my doula sits with Nick and I as we begin to prepare for the big event to take place in less than T-minus 10 minutes. That’s when our doula, Nicole, starts to review the plan for the birth with us. She reminds Nick that he will be the one to first hold Zoe and meet her at the warmer in the operating room. As Nicole continues to talk to Nick about his first acts of fatherhood the realization of being a dad to a breathing child must have overwhelmed him because he started to cry.
“What’s wrong?” I asked Nick gently.
“Nothing. It’s just… HAPPENING. It’s really happening.” He said with a smile through tears mixed with emotions of bittersweet joy and grief.
“Yes. Yes, it is.” I smiled proudly back at him as I held his hand while loving him more and more with every passing moment.
And then everything happened so fast. The nurses declared it was time and whisked me away to the operating room leaving Nick and the doula behind where they were to dress for surgery. I proceed to walk into the operating room with a queasy feeling in the pit of my stomach. Up until that moment I hadn’t thought about the possible risks to my body during the birth of baby No.2. Not until I sat on the operating table facing the nice calm nurse who was trying to get me do to breathing exercises with her as the anesthesiologist was poking my spin with an epidural. My worry shifted from the baby to me for a moment as thoughts of my demise flooded my head and I started shaking in fear. By the time the numbing agent started to work below my waist, the rest of my upper body was trembling uncontrollably and I remembered back to my first labor and the horrible shakes that had set in that were accompanied by the fever and infection that had stolen my other daughters life.
I didn’t have much time to go back to that dark place of dread because just then Nick and my doula walked in cloaked from head to toe in blue hospital scrubs with masks and hairnets as accessories. All I could see were Nick’s greenish-brown concerned eyes locking with mine. He made his way right towards me and took his father-to-be seat beside my head and his eyes never left mine until we heard the most beautiful sound a parent will ever hear.
We heard our baby cry.
And with her wail we both looked up, Nick at our screaming baby over the blue drape raised above my shoulders and me over the curtain as they lowered it. I could see her face and her body! There she was flailing her arms, moving her legs, and screaming her lungs out.
She was ALIVE!
She was ALIVE!
We had an ALIVE baby!
This thought was hard to process and my mind was perplexed with a multitude of emotions as I watched her like a hawk as the doctor raised Zoe up in the air in a sense of triumph in the middle of the operating room for all to see and then handed her to the nurses at the warming station. The three nurses seemed to play hot potato with Zoe over the warmer as I watched Nick look on in amazement at our precious moving, screaming, bundle of joy. He was so gentle, so cautious, as I stared at him starring at her in sheer new dad amazement combined with being awe struck that she was really ALIVE.
“Can I touch her?” He asked the nurses that were taking turns juggling our baby and they all gently laughed and replied with, “Of course.”
The nurses placed her in Nick’s arms and he brought her to me as I kept asking and repeating the phase, “Is she OK? Is she OK?” I must have asked this question 100 times in the span of time it took to weigh her, wipe her down, and wrap her up. I was still asking the question as Nick brought Zoe towards me for us to meet for the first time outside of the belly. As he approached with our beautiful baby girl I finally stopped repeating my question as Nick placed her on my chest and said, “She is perfect!”
As soon as the weight of her little bundled body touched my breast, a piece of my heart forever melted and the hole in my soul that was missing my first daughter deepened a little, while at the same time was filled in with this new found love. Looking at Zoe, my mind initially searched for her sister and a part of me hoped it was her, but this baby was a whole new and different life form with her own legacy of love to fulfill in our hearts and the world.
“We did it!” I said to Nick as I turned to him and kissed my beautiful husband as he brushed the hair on my brow and I held our warm, living baby Zoe in our arms. “We did it!”
“Yes we did.” Nick smiled through tears of joy as he replied. “And she is beautiful, just like her sister.”
The rest of Zoe’s stay in the hospital wasn’t easy. When we were in the recovery room right after the surgery we soon found out that Zoe’s temperature was dropping as she was having a difficult time breathing. The nurses and Nick took our new baby girl to the nursery to see what the issue was and brought her back to my bedside in an incubator with a plan of admitting her to the NICU. They let me hold her one more time as I watched tears of joy turn to tears of fear on Nick’s face while the nurses explained that Zoe would be separated from me and be placed in the NICU to assist with her breathing. As the nurses spoke, their voices seemed to drift off into silent whispers as my heart began to sink in my chest and fill with my old familiar friend, fear. My whole body began to convulse and I could see my legs and arms shaking as I thought to myself as I cried over my new baby girl in my arms, “Not again! Oh, please, not again!”
And we were lucky. It didn’t happen again. Zoe lived. She did need to stay in the NICU during her whole time in the hospital because she had immature lung syndrome. Basically, since she was born three weeks early and her lungs weren’t fully developed she needed added oxygen through a cannula to help her breathe. The stay in the hospital was difficult as Nick spent the entire time in the NICU with baby Zoe and I had to recover on my own in the maternity ward. Being separated from my little girl was trying and I’m sure as it would be for any new mom, but with me there was the added trauma of not being able to bring my first daughter home for good that made the separation from my second daughter so scary.
But somehow we made it through the next few days in the hospital with the support of both our parents, my sister, and brother-in-law, we managed to once again get through the demanding moments of bringing a new being into this world. We couldn’t have done it without all the support from family, friends, and the wonderful care team of doctors and nurses along with the many positive thoughts and prayers from complete strangers to our closest friends.
Then on the fifth day after our initial arrival to the hospital, the doctor in the NICU woke me from my slumber at 8 a.m. that morning. “Is this baby Zoe?” he asked as he placed his stethoscope to her chest.
“Yes.” I replied through new mother exhaustion.
“Good, because baby Zoe and you will be going home today!” The doctor proclaimed.
“Really?” I asked just to double check my ears were working correctly. I mean I couldn’t believe that the unthinkable was going to happen. We were going to bring OUR baby back to our home.
“Yup. Tell your husband to get the car seat ready. She is discharged as of now.” The doc said as he left the room.
Nick returned just after the doctor left and I told him the good news. He immediately went to pack up our things in the vehicle and bring the car seat in to take her home. It took us a few more hours to get baby ready to go. We gave Zoe her first bath in the hospital, fed her one more time, and bestowed our gratitude on the nurses in the NICU. After all this we finally placed our living, breathing, baby in her car seat. The dreaded, haunting car seat that I couldn’t look at for months after our other baby died, but this time we buckled in our snoring little girl into it and made our way out of the hospital.
As Nick and I walked down the halls of the hospital, back tracking the way we had arrived a few days before with him carefully carrying our baby girl in the car seat I asked him, “How does it feel? You know, to be walking out of the hospital with a LIVING baby this time?”
He slowly stopped right before the exit door to the parking ramp and turned to me with the biggest smile on his face, the same one he wore on the day I walked down the aisle towards him to say our “I dos.”
“It feels wonderful! How about for you?”
“It feels amazing. There are no words to describe my joy.” I replied as I leaned in and kissed him right before the three of us walked through the exit with a full car seat in hand making our way towards home with our breathing baby girl.
Send us your birth story! Whether you had a home birth, hospital birth, 37-hour labor or emergency C-section, we’d love to read the tale of your little one’s grand entrance. Write up your birth story (click here for tips on getting started) and email it, along with a few photos, to firstname.lastname@example.org. We’ll share it on our Birth Day blog and may even print it in an upcoming issue!
By Lindsey Henke