The long trek from the maternity ward to the NICU requires a wheelchair and a hospital transporter. Michael has just left for a few hours to check on our two- and four-year-old daughters, who are at home and can’t meet their baby sister. I feel the shift as we roll from a floor of lactation consultants, sweet newborn cries, and pink and blue mylar balloons to a unit of tiny preemies in isolettes with feeding tubes, jaundice lights, and pulse ox monitors.
The woman at the front desk gives me a sticker with a barcode indicating that I am the mom of the Blackston baby and says, “You don’t look good.” It’s been just 24 hours since I had an emergency C-section with a blood transfusion of three units.
As I enter Charlotte’s room, I immediately ask the nurse if I can do skin-to-skin. The nurse hesitates and mentions that it will take several minutes just to move her from the isolette to my chest given all her attachments.
“It’s a lot to move her, so we are going to try to do this just a couple times a day. I want to make sure you will be here for several hours before we do it. She is still supposed to be in the womb, so these lights and sounds are a lot for her,” she explains.
At this moment, I feel a shift. I notice that the nurse is advocating for the needs of my baby, which is good and right, but involves setting a boundary with me.
I feel out of control.
With my first two babies, their breathing, temperature, and heart rate were regulated on my chest. Trying to pee after the raw pain and swelling of a vaginal delivery was my biggest concern, along with the question of what kind of mom I would be. I imagine the dark warmth of my amniotic fluid that Charlotte was supposed to be floating in, in contrast to the cold, bright NICU room.
With careful coordination, two nurses move Charlotte onto my chest. She has an IV in her arm, oxygen moving through a nasal cannula, and ECG leads on her chest. I am learning a new language. The head cardiologist is coming this afternoon to do another echocardiogram and give us her final diagnosis.
We move from a diagnosis that requires heart surgery at age one to a more accurate, rare diagnosis that indicates that she is slowly moving into congestive heart failure and needs open heart surgery ASAP. “Unfortunately, you aren’t going home until after surgery,” the cardiologist says.
The bad news is layering one on top of another, and I’m finding it difficult to breathe. Two days later, we find out she has a high level of bilirubin and is going to have to stay under the light for at least 12-24 hours without being held at all.
I begin to weep.
The idea of not holding my baby for this long seems inconceivable. Looking back, this moment feels like a foreshadowing of the days ahead, when I will go days without holding her during heart surgery and post-op.
While Charlotte is under the bilirubin light, I am discharged as a maternity patient. Later that evening, I lie in the vinyl recliner with a hospital blanket and attempt to close my eyes for an hour or two of sleep when a nurse comes in and says, “Okay, Mama, I hate to tell you this, but you can’t sleep in that recliner for the next few months. You are recovering from a C-section, and you need sleep. The body heals in sleep. If you don’t rest and recover, you will end up back in the hospital with an infection and won’t be able to see your baby at all. I know you don’t want that.”
I look at her with anger and disbelief and simultaneously notice a strange feeling of relief. A part of me knows that her words are true, and I hadn’t even admitted to myself the reprieve I felt when Charlotte was under a light and couldn’t be held. This gave me a chance to take a few minutes to get some fresh air, take a sip of hot coffee, and FaceTime with my children at home. These all felt like graces that allowed me to enter back into that room.
The words of a wise woman were a turning point for me. Julie Canlis, in the book, A Theology of the Ordinary, says, “Limitation was written into their perfection, because limitation put them in a proper relationship with the Creator.”
When I go back to the question of what kind of mother I will be, my hope is that I will be a mom who can not only name my limitations, but also find the relief and comfort in them that will open up my heart to trust God and others with my children’s lives, and ultimately with my own life.
Rachel Blackston loves all things beautiful…rich conversations over a hot cup of lemon ginger tea, watching her three little girls twirl around in tutus, and Florida sunrises on her morning walks. She resides in Orlando with her lanky, marathon-running husband and her precious daughters, priceless gifts after several years of infertility. Rachel and her husband Michael co-founded Redeemer Counseling. As a therapist, Rachel considers it an honor to walk with women in their stories of harm, beauty, and redemption.
I’m grateful to have heard of your story. Thank you for sharing. Such a sense of feeling out-of-control as the nurse advocates for one only to limit another. You have such a gift of word choice and sentence structure that brings me into your story. I’m also grateful to read your bio and to know you have three thriving young daughters.
Maureen, thank you for your kind words. I feel seen by them. And yes, Charlotte is thriving today! Grateful to God for the miracle of her life.
I found myself thinking, “it is too much” as I read paragraph to paragraph with the increasing impossibilities of the news for you about your sweet baby girl. Your introduction into the reality of our limitations as mothers came so early with Charlotte. It is tender ground, knowing you cannot be all the things your children need and we I believe we really need to see one another there and offer sistering. Thank you for your vulnerability in sharing this piece of your own story here Rachel.
Tracy, thank you for seeing me here. Exactly…the reality of our limitations as mothers came so early with Charlotte, a gut-wrenching realization, but one that has brought relief and has invited the need for sisters indeed. Grateful for the RTL community.
Rachel, I’ve read this several times. Each time, I can feel myself “white knuckling” on your behalf. I want you to have control as much as you crave it! I want you to hold your baby as often as you want, to nurse and snuggle and develop a routine with her that is based on your astute ability to attune to her needs. In truth, I also want you to be able to make her serious heart condition go away, and it angers me that it can’t, that YOU can’t.
The RELIEF and subsequent RELEASE you felt as others did their jobs, exercised their expertise, and, in doing so, gave you freedom to be kind to your own body’s very legitimate needs…this feels like the True Relief and Loving Freedom to which God calls us through His loving kindness. Thank you for illustrating it so beautifully through your words as you share your story!
Lacey, wow, thank you. I am moved that you allowed your heart and body to feel my story and the angst and ache of not being able to mother Charlotte from my intuition. Amen to the true relief of the loving kindness of God. Mercy to you friend on this continued journey of mothering and re-mothering.
And the walk continues. I love you.
Rachel I could read your writing all day long!❤️ You are so attuned to your girls and their needs – I can’t imagine how difficult this moment was for you- so thankful for this woman’s strong voice and recognition of what you needed – in your surrender both you and Charolette were both deeply cared for. I love to watch you mother friend! You are a beautiful gift!
Rachel, it was lovely being reminded of your story of heartache, hope and healing. He cares for us in the womb and out of the womb, forever. Thanks for your encouragement.