It happened at 5:19pm on March 9th. As the surgeon cut the umbilical cord and my daughter was legally a human in the eyes of the hospital, the nurse approached me with two bracelets. One was familiar from my prior two kids, a band with my wife’s name, a BG for “baby girl” and the name of her doctor. The second was an orange band. It’s the NICU key.
Starting around week 32 of my wife’s pregnancy, she started to worry that she wasn’t feeling the baby move. Since the risk is all on one side and there’s very little harm in getting checked out, we headed to the hospital. The routine would become familiar. They hook up the monitors and the heartbeat starts to fill the little room from the speakers. Instantly the mood lifts — life is still there. So far, so good. Then, they add the additional monitors and look for things like movement or accelerations (accels). That’s when we got the looks from the techs and doctors. There’s enough movement that we don’t want to do an emergency c-section at this point, but we aren’t thrilled about the amount and maybe we’ll keep watching you for a little bit.
A couple of days later we were back. Not feeling very much movement at all. Same routine.
Heartbeat…. Accels… not loving the numbers.
After a few of these, the surgeon decided to go for steroid injections. If the kid needed to come out early, the least we could do is give her a fighting chance at some lung development. There was going to be a major nor’easter though and the second shot of steroids needed to be 24 hours after the first. My wife must trust me as much as her doctor, because the next day I was giving her a shot at home as the plows were racing outside.
The day after came another call to me in the office: not feeling the baby move. It’s hard to imagine how nerve wracking this kind of thing is. Having gone in to the ER not once or even twice, it was so easy think that we should just ride this out. That it’s just another time we’d race in and get sent home. How many of these should we put ourselves through. And yet, we went again.
I got the kids from school and kept in touch with my wife to get the updates. I was waiting for the text that said she was about to be released. It wasn’t forthcoming.
I left the kids with my neighbor and headed over to the hospital.
Hearbeat…. accels were basically a flat line.
The doctor decided to make the call: you’re having a kid. Right now. Let’s get going.
I was wearing snow boots from walking through the remains of the nor’easter.
With my previous kids, we had a sort of natural progression and we knew the date that the kids were probably going to arrive. The first came two days early. The second a bit sooner, but within the margins. 7 weeks early wasn’t in my calendar. I didn’t know if hospital booties would even fit over snow boots (they barely do).
The surgical team was stellar and they kept us informed throughout everything. And then, at 5:19, I got the news that my third daughter was officially here — and the orange bracelet.
As it turns out, the call to go early was correct. The cord was wrapped around her little neck and there was meconium in her system. Both caused fetal distress.
Being in a neonatal intensive care unit is an odd experience. Every kid is there for their own reason and you are singularly focused on the enemy you need to battle. For us, the enemy was time. Our daughter came into this world just 33 weeks after we conceived her. Having a kid shy of the 40 week suggested time-frame brings along some issues including her little heart struggling to keep up. But she’s a fighter. Every day, she seems to be getting a little stronger.
The NICU is one of the cleanest places you can imagine and the nurses seem to give a little extra care to each of their wards, which is a blessing to the parents. Since the kids are so small and weak, the protocol is to wash your hands before entering the unit and again before entering the individual room, followed by another washing when you leave. It took about 3 days before the abrasive soap starting to make the skin on my hands bleed. And you just keep scrubbing because there’s not much else to do, but wait and see.
As we travel through the hospital, in the parking lot or even the cafeteria to get coffee, we occasionally see other parents with their orange bands. We nod. We know. We wait.
Our daughter now has a name: Eleanor Rose (אֶלִינוֹעָה אֲרִיאֵל)
Eleanor was my grandmother’s name and Rose was the name of two of my wife’s great-grandmothers. Since we kept running to the hospital due to lack of movement, we thought Elinoah was a fitting name (not to mention the other “movement” that made her early birth necessary), but נוֹעָה is also the name of one of the בְּנוֹת צְלָפְחָד (daughters of Zelophehad). It was a story I always admired because it represented to me a turning point where the relationship with God became a two way street. Up till then, God spoke to Moshe, he laid down the rules to the elders and the people were given the marching orders. Then came these women. They said they had a question and demanded an audience and answers. And there was a reply. God was ready and available to answer questions all because they spoke up. And who knows, the issue of what to do with my inheritance when there aren’t any sons may be more practical than ever at this point.
As for Ariel – she may have come into this world like a lamb, but I fully expect she’ll leave this hospital like a lion.