Nikki Baltusis is a 31 year old photographer in Central Florida. She is a wife, a new mama of a miracle baby, a writer, a musician, and a genuine lover of people.
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Whew. *Deep breath.*
It’s taken a little while for me to be able to dare to revisit this day. Even now that my hormones are mostly back to normal levels – though they’ll probably permanently remain at “mom-mone” levels for the rest of my life. But at least the crying is now reserved for tender moments and painful parenting experiences. I suppose I should just jump right in – like ripping off a band-aid. Perhaps it will get easier to share as I recall the experience. Moment by sometimes painful, sometimes joyful moment. Alright then, here we go!
December 8, 2014; 3am
I had barely slept. Even after all the warnings I was given about how I’ll never sleep again. But really, how does one sleep on the eve of a life-altering day? How could I not mull over all the changes coming my way? And how could I not daydream about seeing teeny tiny little fingers and toes? Teeny tiny eyeballs that I grew inside my body. Pff. Nice try. Plus I really hadn’t been sleeping for the last few months anyways. Might as well enjoy the quiet, right?
We had to be at the hospital for 5am, and since our delivering hospital was roughly 30-45 minutes away with traffic, we had to leave our home at 4am to be safe. Because, you know, it’s bad manners to be late for the birth of your child.
The c-section was scheduled for 7am, so we had to impatiently get through a few hours before we would meet our son. I had to have a c-section at 37 weeks due to a massive surgery I had last year. My doctors felt this was the best decision for my safety and the safety of my boy. (So stop sending me hater mail about not waiting until 39 weeks. OK?)
I dressed myself in black maternity leggings, and my favorite Anberlin shirt because, well, somehow it was all so symbolic. Anberlin is a band I listened to all throughout my early adult life. They were the soundtrack to my big solo move to Florida, falling in love, visiting Australia, and mostly the time in my life that I spent learning who I really was and what I genuinely liked. While they called it quits this year, it felt only right that they still somehow be apart of the arrival of my child. Even if it was only via t-shirt. Call it “Marking the end of one era and the beginning of another.”
We ran through the list to make sure we had everything (pff, like we really knew what we needed) and then we were off. A little car seat was buckled in the backseat, along with a special bag filled with things only a tiny baby would need. Those were the only giveaways that anything was about to change. We drove through the dark cities holding hands and smiling through our nerves. Headlights, city lights, blinking signs – everything was a bit of a blur. We had worship music playing in the car because for some reason, other music wouldn’t do. We were about to encounter God through the miracle of life. You can’t go into that singing Beyonce.
We got to the hospital and quickly rejoiced at finding front row parking because that meant we could keep the car there for the duration of our stay. Little things, people. Little things.
We entered the large, yet homey hospital and walked (er, waddled) to the elevator. I knew we needed to do a quick “us-ie” (Zack, remind me to tell you what this was when you’re old enough to read this) for memory sake so we purposely waited for an empty elevator. We managed to snag one and lit up the 4th floor light and hit the “close doors” button before anyone else could join us. (I’m a very private “us-ie-er.”)
Everything from this point on moved really quickly. Thankfully when we toured the hospital I was able to explain to the nurse that I needed to know the process from start to finish and then I would be fine on the day of. I’m so so glad she took the time to do that because knowing the process kept me focused the whole time. The only thing I felt remotely nervous about was the spinal and of course the actual procedure. But I prayed my way through and tried to live in as much peace as I could.
It took 5 nurses to find a vein to get an IV in. They eventually had to call in the one that has the ultrasound machine and they finally got one in. After seeing the many doctors and nurses I had to see to clear me for surgery, I finally saw my amazing OB-GYN and per usual, he brought along his extra measure of peace. We were calm and excited. (Well, as excited as we could be. Haha.)
I walked the long corridor to get to the operating room. I had so many mixed emotions happening, but mostly I was focused intently on keeping all my parts in my gown.
We got to the OR, I said my “see ya soon” to Aaron and entered the cold, sterile room with my medical entourage. Everything up to this point did not seem real and I really hadn’t connected with what was happening until I saw the empty baby warmer bed. It was prepared with a blanket and a booger ball (I don’t know, what do you call it?!) and probably some other things I can’t see in my memories right now. But that is the moment that it finally hit me.
That baby warmer is not intended for anyone’s baby but mine. In just a few short minutes, my baby will be in that bed.
And it was like a tidal wave crashed over me. The prophecy of my son. The journey we had taken to get here. The fact that he was going to be here in a few minutes and my life would never be the same. (Though I would really have no idea the magnitude of that until well after.) It all hit me and I barely made it to the table before I started crying.
For some reason I turned into a bit of a jokester during this morning. Probably because I was nervous. But normally I’m not actually funny to anyone but myself. I made some joke earlier when the nurses were all attempting to stick me and were not successful that, “It didn’t hurt. My skin was just crying.” Or something ridiculous like that and the nurses all laughed and said they were going to steal that. And then in the OR I realized the hot tears were already spilling down my cheeks so I cracked a joke in front of the entire staff about already crying. They thought I was kidding, but really I was sort of turning into a ball of nerves inside.
At this point I had to sit my naked bum on the table facing the nurse with the dude anesthesiologist behind me. The whole time I mostly just hoped things were behaving back there. But quickly my focus changed because a spinal is not really much fun. Thankfully I had already been walked through the process in my mind so I mostly knew what to expect and what would come next. But they didn’t know that I would also be a hard stick back there too I guess because they kept having to put more in and my back is literally stinging right now thinking about it. There there back. It’s over now.
They finally got the liquid in and my legs immediately went warm and they quickly put me up on the table. One of the biggest things I was concerned about was having a panic attack because I couldn’t feel my legs. Thankfully the experience wasn’t as intense as I thought it would be. I could still tell they were there, but I didn’t dare attempt to move them because I suspected the panic might set in then when I couldn’t. So I just stayed content with the warmth I felt and then focused on breathing while the team buzzed and whirred all around me. The sheet went up, my hubby came in with the camera and a big dopey “I’m about to become a dad” grin. And then we just waited. And heard sounds. And I felt pressure but nothing terrible. I think there were various other weird feelings/symptoms from/of the anesthesia but “after birth phenomenon” has already claimed those memories and they are now gone forever. Or until the next child, I suppose.
My doctor is fabulous and kept talking to me and kept me calm the whole time. The anesthesiologists behind me were incredible as well and always made sure I had what I needed. And then it happened.
He was here. And at first they couldn’t get a cry, but then he let it out. All of it. The pain of leaving the womb and entering this world hit him and he let it out real good.
And I cried tears like I have never cried them before. I cried my very first set of mom tears.
(Shedding a few of them now too, as I remember.)
I could see them moving around on my side with him. In the bed I saw earlier. The bed made just for him. But I couldn’t see him yet. Aaron was standing up, totally unconsciously ignoring all the rules. But my doctor understood and just told him not to look over where he was. (He wanted to avoid an unconscious dad. lol.) And I could tell by the look on my husband’s face that he was already enamored. He couldn’t stop looking and reporting facts to me. “He has a full head of hair!” “He has your skin color!” “Blue eyes!” The glee my husband-turned-dad was letting off was infectious and I was finally gathering myself when they told him he could go over and take photos now. And take photos he did. (So proud of him, by the way!)
Aaron (my hubby) kept asking me if I wanted to see a picture of him because they had to take a little longer with him. I told him no though. I didn’t want my first encounter with my son to be through a photo. So I [im]patiently waited…
Then they gave me the news I had dreaded since I heard the words “We’ll have to deliver at 37 weeks.” “He isn’t crying the way we want him to, so we just need to bring him to the nursery to give him some more oxygen.” My doctor had warned me that this could happen, so I assumed it was just standard and by the time we got to recovery and got settled, I figured we would get our little bundle of joy as planned.
But it didn’t go according to plan.
My boy had to be on oxygen and an IV for a little over 24 hours.
Forget the fact that I just had major abdominal surgery. He was all I could think about. Ask about. I pushed through pain and agony to do what I knew I needed to do to heal so that when I could finally hold him…I would be ready.
We had already left recovery and were in a room within a few hours but we still didn’t have our boy. I had to stay on the phone and text and Facebook and grab whatever warm body was near me so that I didn’t go out of my mind. There is an ache that comes when you’re literally face to face with a Promise and it is taken out of your arms. Pleas for prayers went out whenever I could consciously type them. I collectively updated my friends and family whenever I could so as to distract myself from the empty, nagging feeling I had. I prayed for peace more than I ever have before.
My sweet husband didn’t know what to do. He was torn between being present with his recovering wife, and being present with his fighting-for-his-life son. So he spent the day wandering back and forth between the two of us. The anguish was written all over his face. He too was feeling the crushing weight of parenthood. He brought me back pictures so I could see my boy. (Thankfully he and my other family members that could go and visit or just look through the window did that because I believe looking at those photos is what helped me produce the colostrum he needed.)
Seeing the photos of him like this was almost too much to bear. Especially when I couldn’t get out of my bed to scoop him up and get him skin to skin with me. I just wanted to scream across the hall, “Mama is here baby! Hang on! Keep fighting!!”
Interjection: I’m not exactly sure at what point I actually became a “Mom,” but somewhere along the line it happened – all on its own. And I think that’s pretty amazing.
The pediatrician came in later that evening and said he was doing much better and they were hoping to wean him off everything. But in the meantime when he found out I hadn’t even held him outside of the OR yet, he “pulled some strings” and they were able to disconnect him for a little bit to bring him in so I could kiss his little face and have a little skin to skin time with him.
But then the dreaded time came and after feeding him a little colostrum through a little itty bitty bottle. He had to go back to the nursery. My heart literally shattered into pieces on the floor.
I used the rest of the time to rest and try to get some fight back in me. They warned me that they were going to have me up and walking by the end of the day, and since I basically had the same surgery last year (sans baby), I knew it wasn’t going to be easy. So I worked up as much energy as I could and fought even harder to get up once I was approved to. They gave us the disappointing news that Zack was going to have to stay in the nursery overnight. I couldn’t go to bed without seeing him again, so I begged them to let me go to the nursery. They said I could go as soon as I was approved to get out of the bed. And as soon as I was, that got me out right quick!
We waited for the nurse to bring us a wheelchair so we could go to the nursery but by the time she got there, I just wanted to walk. So I walked the long corridor to get to my baby. And I cried when I walked in the room and saw him lying there all by himself. Couldn’t these nurses see how precious he was?! Why wasn’t anybody holding him?! But I knew they couldn’t. He needed to rest. But it was awful and heartbreaking to know he really was all alone.
He was so sweet and wonderful and I couldn’t get enough of him. But eventually my body started aching and letting me know that it was time to take care of myself and let the nurses take care of him. So I made my way back to bed and attempted to get some rest that night.
The next day was a little like the first. Lots of recovery, some visitors, lots of asking when I could have my baby, lots of prayers, disappointing no’s, but also delicious food and at one point a shower! Towards the end of the day all my vitals checked out and I had pretty much been discharged. But we could stay with the baby as long as he was still a patient. His levels kept going up and then down again when they tried to wean him so we just had to ride out the rollercoaster.
Finally, that evening, we heard a knock on the door and when it opened, an angel in scrubs was wheeling my baby in. I was so happy I couldn’t even stand it. As soon as I could, I scooped him up and kissed him. His vitals were finally good and we were able to keep him with us overnight!!!! We were elated. And then finally our family members could snuggle him and I could take a million photos. It was the delayed moment we had all been waiting for. He was worth the wait though.
We had an amazing night. We had to feed him formula though and the little bits of colostrum I could pump. At one point it was too hard to get in and out of the bed so I moved my tray closer to the bed and kept some bottles on it and then just scooped up my boy and put him right in the bed with me. (Pillows blocking all the exits, of course. And not near his face. Of course.) It was the most natural thing in the whole world. I felt like this little tiny person fit perfectly in my arms. And oddly, I felt like I had always been his mom. After him sleeping in my stomach for about 8.5 months, I think it did us both a world of good for him to be sleeping next to me again. The next day we woke up, ate breakfast, fed and changed him, and then the pediatrician cleared him to go home too!
We were super excited, but also sort of feeling that feeling of “oh my goodness, what do we do with this thing!?” But more than anything, we were excited to get him home so we could sleep in our own bed and be in the peace and quiet we were now desperately craving.
After we got loaded up with baby swag (thanks Florida Hospital Altamonte!!!), we bundled up and headed home!
Overall it was an incredible experience. Bringing a tiny human being into the world is probably one of the greatest things I’ve ever done. But boy oh boy does it change EVERYTHING.