It was the second Friday during the season of Lent for all of us Catholics. Me, my husband Zack and the two kids went out for a seafood dinner. The meal had been hot and fresh and the service had been fast for a Friday night. With what was left of our evening Zack and I took the kids to pick out fresh flowers for our Godson, Carpenter, who was stilborn at 24 weeks. His funeral was the next day.
We went home content with the selection the kids picked out. It was time for bed for everyone but Zack. Our brother-in-law, Drew, had come to town and the two decided to stay up later than the rest of us. The seafood had made me sick, but so did everthing with this pregnancy so I didn't think twice about it. Baby Nora's kicks were present and I was exhausted. Preparing myself for my baby nephew's funeral and having the nerve to show up pregnant as if I were going to somehow be support at that moment, was beyond my comprehension. I had to go, this I knew. There was an unspoken understanding between Annie and me even though I could feel the pain every time she saw my belly. I felt guilty holding my kicking tummy knowing my sister-in-law should have the right to hate me right now. She should still be kicked at and exhausted by the tiny boy growing inside her. Aside from my regular sickness and the thoughts over the next day everything else seemed as it should in our normal routine.
It was 2:06am. I woke up so suddenly with the pressing urgency of needing to pee. I sat up and I felt it. A huge gush of water all over me and the bed. My water just broke. It wasn't a slow drizzle at all. It felt like I lost everything I had in the two seconds it took me to sit up. I started screaming for Zack who was still in the living room with Drew. It took him way too long to walk from the living room as if I just needed a glass of water or something. "Zack, my water just broke". "Are you sure?" he asked as if maybe I meant to ask for that glass of water still. Then he saw me, drenched from the waist down. He ran to get towels and yelled for Drew to watch the kids because he needed to get me to the hospital. "But, you aren't due for like 3 more months"...."I know" I said. I was so scared my body was rapidly shaking. He pulled the van right to the front door and helped me in as gentle as possible to help somehow slow the water from leaving me so quickly. " I don't feel her kicking," I was crying. "It's okay, don't give up yet. We haven't even made it to the hospital." We both knew where our fears rooted.
After yelling our way into a labor and delivery room our doctor arrived and was immediately ready to wheel me off for an emergency c-section. I do remember Zack calling his dad to say my water had broken and we were at the hospital. I remember Zack saying into the phone, "Sorry, don't be sorry, she has a heartbeat". Yes, a heartbeat. Thank goodness. I was barely awake to see the two doors leading me into surgery. "Nicole, Nicole, wake up, meet your daughter." That was the one sentence that pulled me from such a sleep. There she was staring at me, all eyes. I remember thinking how crazy it was that she was staring at me. Did she know it was me, her mom? The rest of her could have fit in my hands, I am sure of it. Beautiful. She was born at 3:07am weighing 3 pounds and 3 ounces. She was 15 inches long. "2 minutes and we need to head off to Brenner's (the children's hospital)," I heard the ambo driver say. Unfortunately, I already knew that routine from my second child. Somehow, his birth seemed less scary now that this was happening. Two minutes passed as I just stared and watched her, then she headed off in her plastic bubble of a new home. Zack and his dad followed. I couldn't keep my eyes open.
When I woke I was still in the hospital. I looked over to find Mandy, my best friend since childhood, sitting there patiently waiting. She had sat there the entire time I slept. She had tabs on Nora and Zack, my older two kids and my nurses. She said Annie had beaten Nora to Brenner's and that she, Zack and Randy were all there. Zack's other sister Megan had made it from Asheville to help Drew with the kids and she was there for me and to get me to Nora. I had shaken the sleepy gas out of my system and was ready to see Nora. It didn't take much convincing--my doctor knew after experience I wasn't one to sit idly in a hospital bed away from my baby.
The NICU world was fast, noisy and overwhelming. Nora was perfect. She was alive and breathing. There was no way I could leave, I literally could not move myself to leave. I told Zack and Annie I couldn't leave. It was okay. I stayed while everyone else in my family went back home to my nephew's funeral. His funeral was March 10th, 2012, the day Eleanor was born.
This is how I became Nora's mother. And this is how we spent the first three months of her life. Doctor's rounds, MRIs, surgeries, fearing every day she'd follow her cousin to Heaven--it couldn't have been further from normal. At first it was scary. Terrifying. But since that first day, I've come to learn that normal is a fantasy for the innocent. We've learned to embrace this brokenness as a family and survive together. This is real. This is my life and my journey through motherhood. Welcome to the New Normal, a sacred place of death and miracles.