Charlotte Grace: A Birth Story
Last night, I cried because Charlotte would never be 11 days old again. Actually, I sobbed and laughed at myself at the same time for being so ridiculously hormonal. Each day is so precious to me. Every second a treasure. I have never wished for time to stand still so badly. I feel a desperate need to remember everything...every moment, every sound, every image. A long time ago, before Callie and Charlotte, I can vividly remember sitting down for lunch one day with a coworker and sighing that I could not wait for the weekend or a vacation or some kind of break...and she said something that stuck. Don't wish away time. She said once you have kids, you'll never wish away time again. She was right. There was a time, not that long ago, that time couldn't go fast enough. After months of waiting for Callie, and 35 hours with her that went faster than the blink of an eye, we were left at home, alone, to wait again. To wait to heal. To wait to try. To wait to tell people. Waiting for Charlotte to grow. Waiting for the cry. Waiting to see if she could really possibly be able to stay with us. Waiting for the answer to our prayers.
On Thursday, April 18th, our wait was finally over. At 2:42 pm, Charlotte Grace arrived.
7 lb. 3 oz and screaming.
That day began with anxious waiting. No food after midnight, save for a piece of toast at 5 a.m. We killed time as the clock slowly crept forward, inching toward Charlotte. It is not possible to be more ready than we were for this baby. Her room, complete. Meals in the freezer, done. Baked goods for Charlotte's birthday party, check! We had lots of time on our hands. When it was finally time to go, I looked into the back at the empty carseat. I remembered the last time, when we came home without Callie. How hard I cried when I got in the car. It's so hard not to look back and compare.
At the hospital, it was odd seeing the faces that had cared for me when Callie was born. I ran into my old doctor, who wished us the best of luck, on my way through the hospital doors. The nurse that helped me through labor and surgery was there at the nurse's station and helped me get ready for surgery once again. As she hooked Charlotte up to the monitor, she looked at 'the strip' and told us it looked normal. Different than Callie's experience. We took a picture to document the moment. So many familiar people, and they all remembered. How could you not? And of course, Nurse Cindy was there. She came down from maternity to give us a hug and wish us luck. I'm so glad she was there.
And before we knew it, we were whisked away to the OR. I didn't remember it this way. So clean and happy. It was scary the last time. It felt dark, even though I know it wasn't. It was filled with tension and the hope that everything would be ok, and it wasn't. The nurses this time were making cheerful conversation. The mood was light. I was put on the table and John was allowed in, a camera for each hand. We chatted with a nurse about silly things, which helped calm our nerves. Where were we from? What do we do?
And then, they told John to stand up. And we heard the most beautiful sound in the whole world. Charlotte, crying. I laughed through my tears because her cry was not what I had imagined. It was loud. It was feisty. It sounded kind of like a pissed-off duck. And oh my god, was it beautiful. My doctor proclaimed that she was going to be more of a "Charlie" than a "Charlotte". We'll see what sticks.
The nurses put her to my breast to nurse, right there in the OR. And she took to it right away. My little barricuda baby. I couldn't believe how beautiful she was and that she was all ours. To keep, here on earth, forever.
After spending some more time nursing and bonding in recovery, John got the honor of wheeling Charlotte's bassinet to the waiting room, where our family and friends were anxiously awaiting a sneak peek at our rainbow. As he entered the room, they all jumped up and surrounded her with so much love. When my doctor came through, they cheered. And then, Nurse Cindy was there to take Charlotte for her first bath.
When I finally left recovery for my room, Charlotte was placed back in my arms, the weight of her filling up so much emptiness. I fought back the tears that filled my eyes as I remembered the last time I made that trip. Without Callie. The sad eyes of the nurses. This time, there were smiles. And cheers! When John and I got married, my bridesmaids decorated champagne bottles to be opened up on our special 'firsts'. First house, first New Year's, first baby... We had gone through all of those bottles and had put the baby bottle in the fridge before we had Callie. And there it stayed, until now. In that hospital room, we popped the cork and toasted to Charlotte in rainbow cups with rainbow cupcakes on rainbow plates under a rainbow banner. If you had walked by and not known our story, you might have mistook our room for a gay pride parade. It was the best party I have ever attended.
After many happy visitors, we approached the day before we could take Charlotte home, Homecoming Eve. There was a knock on the door and an unfamiliar doctor came into the room. "The nurse told me there was something wrong with her heart, " he said. And just like that, our world came crashing down around us. My chest tightened as I clutched Charlotte and tears streamed down my face as the doctor asked questions about Callie's health. Did we get an amnio with Charlotte? Tell me more about neonatal Marfan syndrome. And he listened to her heart and there was something wrong. Her heart was skipping beats. He told us it was likely harmless and transient, but given our background they would rather be safe than sorry. So, they ordered an EKG immediately and an echocardiogram the next morning. After he left, John and I broke down into sobs. How could this be happening AGAIN??? We called our friend, Katie, a pediatrician, who promptly drove down from Baltimore to be with us and reassure us. We needed someone in our corner. I couldn't bear the thought that something could happen to little Charlotte and I desperately wanted to take her home with us the next day. I'm not sure my heart could have taken going home without another baby.
The EKG was shared with doctors at Childrens National, the same doctors who treated Callie. They remembered us. And gave Charlotte the VIP treatment. As quickly as it came, our fears were eased as the doctors told us that Charlotte's heart issue was benign and very common. It would go away with time. Still, we were jittery and our nerves were fried. Luckily, we have made some incredible connections through our experience with Callie. Very shortly after getting the news about Charlotte's heart, we received a phone call from our social worker, Heather, at Childrens who had been such a comfort to us last January and beyond. She said she had received a note, saying that Charlotte was having an issue and she arranged for us to have a follow-up echocardiogram within a week with her good friend. So, on Charlotte's trip home from the hospital we first stopped by the pediatrician who reassured us that everything would be ok and a few days later, we got the best news at the appointment with Heather's friend, a great cardiologist at Childrens- Charlotte's heart would be JUST FINE. It is a common issue that clears up with time and Charlotte will have a follow-up appointment in 6 months just to make sure.
And so it was that Charlotte came into this world, with joy and happiness...and just a little bit of drama.
In the morning of her birth, before we went to the hospital, the skies opened up and it poured rain so hard that it woke me up. I couldn't help but hope that I would see a rainbow after the storm. I thought Callie would make her presence known in some grand gesture, too obvious to ignore. There was no rainbow in the sky that morning, but there was a rainbow born that day. Callie was there in that operating room, I know it.
I know it because I have never felt such peace. Even though I was nervous, I was WAY calmer than I thought I would be considering everything we have been through. I truly believe that peace came from Callie. She was there, lighting up our spirits and hearts. The peace has lingered since that day. It has filled John and I with such joy and perspective. God and Callie sent us the baby we needed. Charlotte is a good baby. She only cries when she needs something, but when she cries, it is filled with vigor and vitality. Reassurance of life and, instead of being stressful, each and every one of Charlotte's cries reminds me that her life is precious. I thank God for the noise. When I am tired, I remember the waiting. When I feel pain from surgery, I remember the pain of my broken heart. When Charlotte wants to be held, she gets what she wants.
Because she is only 11 days once. Today is the 12th day. What will it bring?
I don't know, but I do know that Callie has taught me to savor it. Whatever 'it' is.
Right now, you can find us enjoying the present moments, so sweet and so precious, with our beautiful Charlotte Grace.
My dear friend Mabby took these wonderful pictures:
And, we were the blessed recipients of a beautiful photo session with Erin J. Rexroth. You can see her blog post here with our images. I was so touched by the gesture and the care and time she put into giving us such treasured keepsakes. Enjoy a few below! xoxo