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Oct 29 2012

A 3 A.M. Hospital Visit for my 3-Day-Old Daughter

By at 12:05 pm

“There’s something wrong with the baby.”

Those are the words you never want to hear about your 3-day old daughter. You certainly don’t want to hear them at 3 a.m. It was barely 12 hours since we had brought our baby girl home from the hospital for the first time. I sat up in bed, squinting at the baby nurse holding my newest little girl. The hall light shone behind her, blinding me as I wondered if she had really said what I thought she had said, or if this was some sort of bad dream.

After all, I’d fed my newborn only an hour before, holding her to my breast. I watched her eat, amazed at how tinily perfect she was, and how big the tiny nightgown my other daughter had worn as a baby seemed on her small shoulders.

But now, as I came closer to the nurse, I could see that one of the baby’s little shoulders was covered with blood.

She had burped the baby, the nurse said, hoping to relieve some of her fussiness. And the baby had vomited blood. In addition to her nightgown, the nurse showed me a burp cloth. It, too, was covered with blood.

My husband, the nurse, and I went downstairs to the kitchen. I called 911. In my panic, I gave the wrong phone number, and misspelled my new daughter’s name. They told me that a policeman would come first and then the ambulance. While they didn’t say so, I knew the policeman was coming to make sure we hadn’t done anything to hurt the baby. It was a thought just as repellent as the sudden idea that went through my head: what if my daughter’s third day on earth turned out to be her last?

The worst possible fear for a parent–the loss of a child–surrounded me as I prepared to go to the hospital. This baby was too good to be true, I thought as I put on my shoes with my pajamas. For me to have had four healthy children and a husband I adored–maybe I had been asking too much of God to have so many blessings at once. She was something incredible, but too generous of a gift, and now it might be being taken back. And I doubted my ability to live through that, if that were the case.

Somewhere in there, I called my parents. The policeman came, and, I suppose, gauged that our parental distress was genuine. I looked at my baby, who seemed to be breathing well, but what did I know? The blood was real, and terrifying.

The ambulance came, a huge thing the size of a fire truck, with two paramedics and driver. They buckled the baby in her car seat, and then the car seat to one of those rolling beds I only knew from the show ER. Such a huge vehicle, I thought, for such a tiny life.

I went into the ambulance, while my husband followed in the car. I sat with my finger in her hand. I hadn’t even had a chance to file her nails, I thought irrationally. She was so new that her skin on her hands was still chapped and dry from her extended stay in my uterus. Please, please be okay.

We got to the hospital, where the paramedics wheeled her in in her car seat on top of the rolling bed, which would be ridiculous if it weren’t so damn scary.

In the pediatric ER, a nurse took the baby’s vital signs, and told us the doctor would be in shortly, that the emergency room wasn’t so busy. Something in the way she was moving and speaking somehow implicitly conveyed that the baby was going to be okay. She seemed far too calm for a life-or-death emergency.

As it turned out, the problem was not with the baby, but rather, with me. I assume it’s not overshare on a parenting website to tell you that when you start breastfeeding, it can be rough on the nipples. Some babies, like my daughter, have the latch of a fierce tiger, and sometimes bleeding can result from the breasts–even while feeding. As it turned out, my daughter’s vomiting was her way of saying, “Mom, I’m not a vampire–what else have you got on tap?”

We came back home after 5 a.m. to sink into bed with relief–only to wake up again in an hour, of course, to feed the other three kids breakfast.

But I’m not complaining. See, here’s the thing–that ambulance trip and hospital visit ended happily for us, with a diagnosis that meant an easy resolution and health for all. And because of that, everything else fell into perspective neatly and suddenly, with a click, like a key turning in its proper lock.

Suddenly, the prospect of weeks of sleepless burping and diapering ahead didn’t faze me–after all, I had a baby who was alive and well. The idea of doing all that AND accommodating the needs of two elementary school boys and a 1-year-old girl no longer made me want to faint with exhaustion–it made me want to laugh with gratitude.

I just recently read a quote from Albert Einstein: “There are only two ways to live your life. One is as though nothing is a miracle. The other is as though everything is a miracle.”

When I pick up my daughter, I have to do so gently: she is delicate, and beautiful, and new. The terror of that other night reminded me that she, my other children, my husband, and my entire life, are miracles, all delicate and beautiful, whether new or old.

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