Today is your birthday. Kids always seem to like hearing their birthday stories, so I thought today I would tell you yours. You knew it once, but it has been so long, perhaps you have forgotten it.
I am sure that other babies are just as wanted, welcomed and loved as you were, but I can absolutely guarantee that none have ever been wanted, welcomed, or loved more than you. I had longed for you for years, and had finally had to take fertility pills in order to have you. I was so joyful when I found out you were on your way, and I enjoyed every bit of the pregnancy. But then I started to develop some complications towards the end, pre-eclampsia. Because of that, my doctor decided to induce you early. It seemed very early to me — almost four weeks before you were due! I asked him if you would be okay, and he poked my stomach and said he thought you were big enough, and that you were probably mature enough, but he said that the risks of waiting were greater than the risks of an early birth. So he sent me home with orders to show up early the next morning to start the process of induction.
I was so nervous when I left the doctor’s office that day, my teeth were actually chattering. I went to visit Nana (my mom, to the rest of you) at work. She was working in the infant’s department at Sears at the time, and when I told her we were going to have the baby the next day, she started nervously buying things to send home with me, like insurance against our fears. Your motif those first few years was Winnie the Pooh, since that was what Sears sold. He was sewn on your blanket sleepers, and danced on the bumper guards on the pad on your changing table, and across your sheets and blankets.
The next morning, I checked into the hospital. Back in those days, labor and delivery was not the friendly place it is now. The labor room was tiny, more like a large closet. I was put in there and hooked up to an IV of pitocin to start labor. But it didn’t start, and it didn’t start. Well, not that I’d notice anyway. The tinest contractions crawled through me. On and on and on all that day, almost nothing happened. Evening came and there was no progress. The doctor decided to unhook the pit drip and let me rest for the night, and we would begin again in the morning.
And the next day was more of the same. It was very discouraging, and I was beginning to believe that this was all a sham, an illusion, and that I wasn’t actually going to have a baby at all. I thought perhaps if they stuck a pin in my stomach it would deflate like a balloon, and there would be nothing there. Eventually, however, the doctor thought of his own version of sticking a pin in my belly, and decided to rupture the amniotic sac in which you were apparently very contentedly swimming.
Well, that did it. Labor really got started after that. Soon they were moving me into the delivery room. They don’t have those anymore. Today babies are born in the labor and delivery suite. But you were born in a delivery room, which was basically an operating theater. As we were leaving for the delivery room, your dad went to grab the camera he’d brought to record your birth. But I told him to leave it. There had been so much difficulty, from your conception, to pregnancy, to the birth process, that I was still afraid, and a little superstitious perhaps. I was afraid that the camera would record sorrow.
There was no sorrow in that delivery room, however — only joy! You were born at 8:13 p.m., 6 pounds 7 ounces, and absolutely perfect.
Usually after a baby was born, they would take her to the nursery for a few hours, to run all the newborn tests and observe her to make sure everything was okay. Then later they’d take her to her mom. But I didn’t want that, so I had taken advantage of an optional program that allowed us to hire a private nurse to be with us when you were born. Then after your birth, she accompanied us to our hospital room and took care of both you and me. So we never had to be separated. The nurse taught me how to do all the things a new mommy might not know how to do, from putting on your diaper, to cleaning your umbilical cord, to breastfeeding. It was so exciting! Long after midnight, we finally slept, and you did sleep most of that first very short night. You woke once to be fed, and went right back to sleep.
I woke early the next morning, before you. As soon as my eyes opened I hopped up out of bed and scooped you out of your basinette. I took you and held you up to the window, where the sun was shining brightly. “Look, baby,” I said, “Your first morning.”
Those were also the days when they kept you in the hospital for forever after birth. Well, it felt like forever, and it felt like even longer because you could never get a handle on exactly when they were going to let you go. There were always tests to be run, and decisions to be made, which could only happen when the doctor made his rounds. I hated being in the hospital, because they always made it feel as though you belonged to them instead of to me. I just wanted to take you home. And finally, after three days, I got the okay, and we were released. All your grandparents came over, and we all marveled over how beautiful you were, and how much we loved you — even more than we’d expected!
We’d just squeaked through a release from the hospital, actually. The doctor said that your bilirubin was running a little high, which is a sign of jaundice, so we were told we’d have to take you back to the hospital the next morning to have it checked again. We did, and it was higher. They decided to hospitalize you once again. I was devastated. I remember standing in the hallway at Kaiser, on the pay phone (we didn’t have cell phones in those days either), calling Nana. I wailed, “They took her back!”
They put you in an enclosed basinette with fluorescent lights on top, since the light breaks down the bilirubin in the skin so that it can be washed away, and put a little mask over your eyes, so the lights wouldn’t hurt them. The spot on your scalp where the internal fetal monitor had been attached was a little red, so they cultured it, and it turns out you had a strep infection. Having to be hospitalized for the jaundice may have saved your life, because I was young and stupid at the time and who knows how long it would have taken me to register the fact that you had an infection. They started you on penicillin, but for some reason they had to check to see if the strep had spread by performing a spinal tap on you, at only four days of age.
After all the efforts I had taken to assure you the most gentle and loving welcome into the world, it just wasn’t fair! I’d signed up for that program so you wouldn’t have to be taken away when you were first born, and now here, just a few days later, they were taking you away anyway. You were having to endure painful medical procedures, and instead of being held and rocked, you were having to spend most of your time in a hospital basinette, because you had to stay under the lights.
Finally you came home, and I held you and loved you and never wanted to put you down. I kept waiting for that day to come, when I’d have to leave you to cry yourself to sleep, but it never came. Whenever you cried, I picked you up and held you, because I never wanted you to feel scared or lonely or sad and not have someone there to comfort you. I didn’t return to work after you were born, because I just couldn’t. It would have felt like ripping out a piece of my heart and leaving it behind every morning. So I stayed home with you, and we spent our days just loving each other. People said I would spoil you, but that didn’t happen. You were anything but spoiled. You were a beautiful, loving little girl. As your brothers and sisters came along, you were always giving and nurturing. I’ve received numerous messages now from people who knew you in school, and over and over again they have commented on how nice you were, how kind. So many people have said that they felt like outsiders in school, and that they remembered you because you were always nice to them, even when other people weren’t.
I guess I always just wanted to keep you safe from harm and heartache. I did the best I could. Then when you were almost ten years old, someone came along and scooped you up and took you away, where I could not find you, could not comfort you from your fears and sorrows. It makes no sense, does it?
Michaela, wherever you are, know that on this day I celebrate your life. And wherever you are, remember I love you … forever.