“I want my mommy!!!”
Her sobs turned louder each time she said it.
“I… W-WANT… M-M-M-MY… MOOOOOMMY!!!!”
I sat anchored to the chair, unable to move without the burning sensation that accompanied any attempt to stand from my current position. Her arms were flailing desperately for me, yet only getting further as her daddy carried her away. It was way past her bedtime, and after another long day of visiting Abigail, I was desperate for rest too.
As I listened to her pathetic little cries, my heart breaking a little more that I couldn’t give her what she wanted, anger coursed its way through me. This weekend… this supposed-to-be “special family time weekend,” the one where my parents left their own house to stay at a hotel room for the night, so that we could have some much-needed privacy, was not going as planned. We’d hoped it’d be positive. But when you leave three very emotionally and physically exhausted souls together, tensions and frustrations flood over every aspect of attempted interaction.
We were all in desperate need of sleep, and the two year old was clearly resenting the fact that mommy could not lay next to her the way I always had. My “owie” made nearly all movements painful, and after a very unsuccessful attempt to lay down the night before, which left me begging God that the incision hadn’t opened the way it felt like it had, I wasn’t about to try it again. I needed to remain upright, moving my torso as little as humanly possible.
Dozens of memories streamed through my mind.
“When Abigail comes out of mommy’s belly, I’ll be able to hold you again.”
How many times had I said that? Had we both longed for that day when I could indeed sweep her into my arms and dance her around the living room the way I used to? When I could lay right next to her, stroke her soft cheek and sing “You are my sunshine,” our nightly routine of love? We both craved it.
But because of the 6-inch “owie,” I couldn’t do any of those things.
She hated it.
So did I.
The next morning we went back to the hospital.
I brought the little bottles of milk I had pumped, each carefully marked with the date and time, and labeled with the stickers that held Abby’s name. Although it seemed like such a little amount, I remembered the lactation specialist telling me “every drop counts.”
When we got there, I pulled out the bottles and handed them to the nurse, who held each one up, examining the content.
Her critical tone shamed me. Yes, lady. That’s it. That’s all I’ve been able to get with my baby an hour away and my other child screaming at me. That’s all my body can give. Just take the dang milk and let me see my baby.
Abigail looked good that day, but I noticed her tongue was solid white. We learned that her air pockets were diminishing, and were almost gone entirely. We were thrilled, to say the least. Although over the course of the last 24 hours, an infection set in that required antibiotics. Antibiotics that often resulted with infants getting a white coat of film covering the tongue, which was clearly what Abigail now had. Thrush.
“You can attempt to nurse if you want to.” Her voice was apprehensive. “But I would advise against it until the thrush is gone. Otherwise, you may just pass the condition (which was a fungal infection) back and forth between you. Then it can be difficult to get rid of.”
Always erring on the side of caution, I agreed to just keep pumping, and wait to nurse her until it cleared.
The next day, we heard the news we’d been waiting to hear since her birth.
“She can go home.”
The air pockets were completely gone, her vitals were strong, and other than her being on antibiotics, which we were to continue giving her upon returning home, she was doing well. We were told she’d be released Thursday, which was two days away, giving me a chance to attend the 2-hour class on newborn care that we were required to attend prior to her release.
As the doctor broke the news to us, I glanced down at Abigail as she rested in the nook of my arm.
“You’re coming home, baby girl!”
Thursday, August 27th, 2015
The process took longer than expected, but eventually we had all the paperwork, the antibiotics, and clearance to take her home. We packed up her things… the pink and blue hospital cap, the white baby comb, and other little tokens of her time spent here, at Loma Linda. I pulled out the pink outfit I’d spent way too much time agonizing over the night before, trying to decide whether it was worthy of such a special occasion. This would be the outfit she’d meet her sister in, which would surely be a photo that would hang upon our wall for years to come. I tenderly guided her arms and legs out of her current, plain onesie and into the chosen one. Which she adorned with vomit the second I strapped her into her carseat.
Out came the back-up, mint green onesie. As I gently undressed her of the “precious” yet now vomit-covered clothing, I soon realized how silly I’d been. I thought I was being so pro-active at staging the days moment to be just perfect, by choosing the most sweetest attire. But really, I was just wasting energy. Pink onesie. Green onesie. It really didn’t matter. What did matter was the 6 pound, 10 ounce treasure that was soon coming home. No matter what she was wearing.
As we glided down the freeway, I silently rejoiced that after a week, I was now done making this trip. She’d be at home with me now, right where she belonged.
As we pulled into the driveway, my mom carried a very anxious Sweet Pea out to meet us at the van. She was eager to meet her baby sister in the flesh, without the separation of the “glass box” the baby had been in before.
My husband pulled out the car seat, and big sister jumped and laughed the whole way inside, enthralled in the moment of meeting baby “Abby-gail.”
He set the car seat on the black recliner I’d spent the entire night contracting in a week before. Sweet Pea touched her tiny feet, and squealed with delight. She ran to the bedroom to grab the two soft animal-shaped rattles we let her choose upon arriving in California. Her first “present” to her new baby sister. She placed them carefully on baby’s lap. And even though Abigail was sound asleep, Sweet Pea couldn’t stop repeating as mommy videoed the moment, “Awe, she’s looking at me!”
Finally, we were all together, a family of four.
Abby’s thrush persisted, and I continued to pump. All the while continuing to pray that I’d get the chance to breastfeed her. Before the c-section, I had set the goal to nurse her all the way through her first birthday, a common recommendation from pediatricians. But now, after all that had happened, and all odds against us (according to that dang breastfeeding success poster that plagued my every restroom visit at Loma Linda), I was just hoping for the chance to nurse her at all.
But by this point, artificial nipples were her every comfort. She was drinking from a bottle. And she was sucking on a paci. And prior to the thrush, she would not latch.
And I pumped.
And I prayed.
One night, about two weeks after her homecoming, I had just finished a pumping session as my husband walked through the door. At my request, he took Abigail into the bedroom and changed her diaper. He poked his head out the door to get my attention.
“Hey girl! It’s gone!”
I looked at him, waiting for him to specify, yet knowing what he’d say, because I’d noticed it earlier that day too.
“The thrush! It’s gone! You can nurse her now!”
When my expression was less than enthusiastic, he looked worried.
“What’s wrong? Don’t you want to nurse her?”
I held up the empty bottle. After 15 minutes of pumping.
“I… I don’t have any milk!”
What I lacked in milk came out in tears, as defeat settled deep in my heart. It had taken too long, and I cursed my follow-the-rules personality that had followed the doctors advice to wait for the thrush to clear.
Although I felt defeated, my husband and mom urged me on, knowing how important this factor of motherhood was to me. Already anticipating issues, I pulled out the nipple shield I’d used at the hospital. She wouldn’t latch.
Then we tried without it.
And she sucked.
For a few weeks, we’d nurse as much as my body would allow, then I’d top her off with formula.
By the time she turned two months, we’d given up the formula entirely. My body had kicked into gear, and supply was never an issue again.
Even though the clearance came from the doctor at the six-week checkup for me to now carry things heavier than Abigail, my husband and I agreed that I should wait longer before picking up Sweet Pea. After all, I had not carried her since early in the pregnancy and by now she had gotten pretty heavy. With all the drama we’d endured, we weren’t about to let some complication happen because I strained my body before it was ready.
Several weeks later, I felt ready. I finally felt good. I was laying down easily. I was getting down on the floor, and up off the floor without issue.
It was time.
When the opportunity presented itself, I swooped her up into my arms, and cradled her head with my palm. I swayed her side to side with the music.
“Hey, Sweet Pea. What’s mommy doing?”
“You’re holding me again!!”
Her smile seemed wide as the earth as she nestled her head into my neck, claiming the spot she’d so patiently forfeited for the sake of sister’s safety. She pulled away.
“Is your owie all better?”
“Yes, baby. My owie is all better.”
“God healed you?”
“God healed me.”
August 19, 2016
One year, to the minute, after Abigail was pulled out from me, I rocked her in the red fabric chair beside my bed. She suckled herself to sleep.
We met our goal.