The hospital experienced quite the baby boom in the spring of 2013. Nearly every time I entered the Labor and Delivery waiting room, it was full of moms-to-be and their families, anxiously awaiting their turn for a bed. Despite all of my hopes to go into labor naturally, I walked into the hospital six days after my due date for my scheduled induction. I anticipated a quick birth. Everyone always says second babies are easy deliveries - and things were looking great.
We had wonderful experiences with all of our nurses, but Nikki, our initial Labor and Delivery nurse, was fantastic. She truly felt like an old friend right off the bat! She was patient with our indecisiveness and handled every bump in the road with poise and professionalism. She talked with us about how we would like the birth to go and addressed all of our concerns. With our first baby, I'd developed preeclampsia and was induced four weeks early, resulting in a short NICU stay for our daughter. Needless to say, we were really hoping for a more normal birth experience this time around. I wanted to deliver this baby on my own, without medical intervention, hold him the second he came out and watch him take his first breath. But more than just the general patient/nurse dialogue, our nurse really got to know us on a more personal level - to her, we weren't just the couple in room 676.
We initially thought she would be with us until the end of her shift at 3 a.m., but later that evening, found out her schedule had been adjusted and she would actually be leaving us at 7:30 that night. Knowing we were devastated to be losing her, she made every effort to keep our spirits up as it neared the end of her shift. She assured us she would be back at 3 a.m. and that if I was still pregnant, she would request to be assigned back to us.
Unfortunately, we didn't make it to 3 a.m. The normal birth experience I had pictured in my head a million times would remain just that, a picture in my mind. After two and a half hours of pushing, our baby's heart rate started dropping. Pairing that with the lack of progress and my elevated heart rate, the situation quickly turned into an emergency as we were rushed to the OR.
Then at 2:20 a.m. on May 23rd, I heard the most exciting, yet terrifying words: "Baby's out." And then nothing. Complete silence. I kept asking my husband, "What's wrong? Why isn't he crying? Where is he? Can you see him? Is he ok?" He assured me that everything was fine and that the pediatricians had him, that he could see him and he looked healthy. In a panic, I kept asking over and over, "But why isn't he crying?!" I could hear my doctor sternly telling the surgical team to get clamps. The pressure vacuum from all the pushing caused my abdomen to tear when pulling our baby out during surgery. Simultaneously, his skull fractured and both lungs collapsed. After a few minutes of complete panic, knowing I was bleeding out and my baby wasn't breathing, I heard the most beautiful sound: my son cried. I started crying, too, so thankful that he was alive.
The next thing I remember was waking up in the OR recovery bay. From the moment I opened my eyes, I couldn't stop crying. My husband said the doctors were talking about trauma to the baby's head, but needed to get him to the NICU for further evaluation before they could talk with us. After only being in the room a few minutes, minutes that felt like days with all of our unanswered questions, someone pulled back the curtain from the hallway - it was Nikki.
I broke down even more. She just hugged me, held me and let me cry. She said "I'm so, so sorry! I came in early for my shift to check on you guys and saw you were out of your delivery room. I was so hopeful you'd had the baby and been moved to postpartum, but then I saw the recovery board. I'm so sorry, I know this isn't what you wanted, but you did so great!" We told her what little we knew about his condition and her face grew more solemn as her eyes welled up with tears - she felt our pain. She wasn't just talking to us, reciting some standard customer service language. She really felt for us - she cared. Over and over again as she held me crying, she would say, "...you did great, really. He's going to be fine, trust me. This kind of thing can happen. Some babies just can't be born the way we want them to be."
Trying to help us focus on the positive, she asked us if we'd picked a name yet - during my labor, we'd joked about him never getting a name because we couldn't make up our minds. We told her we decided to name him ... "Ohhhh, what a sweet name for your little miracle guy! He's going to come out of this. Babies are so resilient and he's in such good hands. Please try to rest - I promise you he's really in good hands." We barely knew her, but it felt like she was an old friend that was truly there for us in our time of need. She was no longer our nurse, but came in early for her shift just to check in with us. Although she couldn't stay long, the fifteen minutes she was with us were both comforting and reassuring. We will never forget her.
Before leaving, Nikki told me to focus on what I wanted to say to my baby when I got the chance to meet him. She said, in a way, I was lucky because I had some time to really think about it - I could make sure it would be perfect. So I did. Over the next eight hours in recovery, I rehearsed exactly what I would say to him when I held him for the first time. At the time, I didn't realize how thankful I would be for her advice.
When I was finally able to see him, I had to say hello and goodbye all at once. We learned he would need to be taken to Children's Hospital by ambulance. His skull fracture was more severe than they initially thought and they didn't have the means to continue caring for him in our NICU. There wasn't much time and zero guarantees. I didn't know if I would be able to say hello again, so having my thoughts together was critical. His nurse adjusted his leads and wires and wrapped him in a hospital blanket. His face was swollen and he was barely moving. She handed him to me and once in my arms, he started stirring a bit and seemed slightly more alert. The first time I held my son only lasted a couple of minutes, but it felt like time stopped and it was just the two of us. Through tears, I recited the words I'd rehearsed over and over again:
"Hi Mr. - I'm your mommy. I love you so much already and you didn't even know I was here. You're so perfect. You're going to be fine. We'll get through this. You're a fighter, I just know it. Don't be scared because you're in such good hands. Everything's gonna be alright. I promise. I have loved you from the moment I first heard your heart beating and I will never stop loving you, my sweet boy. There is so much love in this world waiting for you and I can't wait to watch you grow. You were always with me, and now, I will always be with you. Always."
Our first moments together were short, as the nurse quickly took him back to prepare him for transport. They let me hold his hand, his fingers wrapped around mine, until it was time to wheel him out to the transport. As I watched my husband walk out, following behind my newborn baby on the gurney, I have never felt more alone. Although I couldn't physically be with him over the next couple of days, I could feel his soul with me, so I hoped he could feel mine, too. Remembering the moment when I held him for the first time, helped me through some of the hardest, darkest days of my life. "You were always with me, and now, I will always be with you. Always."
Fast-forward to today and my miracle baby is nearing his first birthday. After six months of follow-up visits with a team of neurosurgeons and pulmonologists from Children's, he's been given a clean bill of health. He's just like any other healthy, happy 11-month-old -just on the verge of walking and getting in to absolutely everything. He is such a light in our lives and we're grateful for him every single day.
As we're nearing his first birthday, I'm thinking of our experience more frequently. I will always remember Nikki's kind face, warm smile and caring demeanor. We can never forget the compassion she showed us during one of the most traumatic experiences of our lives.
Nikki, thank you for being there to support us at our lowest low and contributing to such a memorable first moment with my son. Although you weren't physically there at the time, your words of compassion and positivity will never leave my memory. Thank you for being such an amazing person and exemplary nurse. I'm sure you feel you were just doing your job, but you've truly impacted our lives. Though you are no longer our nurse, we will always consider you a friend.