When you reach the third trimester of pregnancy, everyone primes you for the day that you’ll head to the hospital. They walk you through the differences between false labor and active labor. You tell yourself that you won’t be that person who shows up at the hospital every two days convinced that your Braxton-Hicks contractions are the real deal, only to be turned away by the pitying nurses.
So when I started feeling labor pains last Monday at the office, I tried not to make a big fuss.
I worked most of the morning and into the afternoon. Then I went home to dinner with my husband and my visiting parents. After Mom and Dad left I casually turned to Alec and mentioned that I might be going into labor. We went to the hospital via Target (where I bought a cute shirt), and from the hospital we nearly went back home because I thought it was all in my head. We made it as far as pulling out of the parking space in the garage before I had my strongest contraction yet and asked Alec to please turn the car around.
We circled back to the exact same parking spot, rushed into the hospital again, and went straight to admitting, where they said they couldn’t admit me yet but that I shouldn’t go home either. “Walk around for a couple of hours and then come back,” they said.
When we returned to admitting around two in the morning I had progressed enough that they could finally give me a bed.
After that, everything blurs together in my mind. I do know that a whole lot of nothing happened for a while, then suddenly everything happened all at once. Another woman delivered at almost exactly the same time that I did, so my midwife was in another room when my baby started crowning. The nurse helping me through contractions saw the head appear, ran to the door and shouted for help, then fumbled for sterile gloves. My midwife burst into the room with just seconds to spare.
And suddenly my baby was crying and they were placing her on my chest and cleaning me up and in the chaos several minutes later someone asked, “Did anyone look at the clock?”
So it’s really just our best guess, but on paper Charlie Louise Down was born at 5:58 am on November 22, 2016.
The next couple of days were spent in the hospital with family members dropping by to visit and nurses constantly checking in to record our vitals and run tests and complete paperwork.
Then on Wednesday, a few hours before we planned to check out, Charlie failed a routine oxygen test. They reassured us that any number of factors could have contributed to her low levels, so they would just run another test in the nursery. But when she failed that test as well, the doctors decided to order an x-ray and an echocardiogram.
The results came back showing pneumonia in her lungs.
All things considered, we were lucky—they caught it early, and it didn’t look like a serious case, and other than the low oxygen levels Charlie was showing no symptoms. However, standard procedure for pneumonia dictates a full seven days’ worth of antibiotics administered through an IV, and that meant seven extra days in the hospital with our newborn.
Insurance only covered a two-night stay for me, so I had to check out the next day. Thankfully the University of Utah hospital keeps a “twilight room” for families with babies staying in the Intermediate Care Nursery. Each morning I asked to be considered for the room and around eleven am they would tell me if I could use it for the night. Somehow I managed to snag it every night during Charlie’s stay.
But there was really only enough space for me in the room, so Alec had to trek to and from the hospital every morning and night. Meanwhile, because I wanted to breastfeed, nurses came to get me three or four times each night when Charlie was hungry, and I shuffled down the hall under fluorescent lights to reach her crib, untangle all the tubes and wires connected to her tiny body, and attempt to feed my baby.
We spent most of our days during that week exploring various wings of the hospital, sipping coffee at the 24-hour Starbucks, and sitting in the dimly lit nursery watching Charlie sleep.
It wasn’t what I imagined when we drove to the hospital that first Monday night when I went into labor. I cried a lot and complained a lot. All I wanted was to bring my daughter home, home to the nursery that we designed so painstakingly, home to the cute clothes and books and toys we’d collected for the last nine months, home to the comforts of our own house, away from prodding nurses and sharp needles and sterile gloves.
But thank heavens for modern medicine. Thank heavens for competent nurses and doctors who stopped the pneumonia before it could cause any serious damage. I may have complained about our long stay in the hospital, but I am thrilled that it means I have a healthy little girl sleeping on my chest right now.