Early Wednesday morning, I decided to take Thursday and Friday off from work so that Nikole and I could spend some time connecting before Thea's arrival -- and so I could get the outside of the house painted.
I succeeded partially on both counts. The front of the house got one coat of paint on Thursday (thanks to my friend Tom, who dropped by to help) and Nikole and I spent Thursday morning with Kristin and Melissa from 4025 Yoga centering around the birthing experience ahead of us.
Friday morning, I woke early and decided to take Rilo to puppy daycare for the morning. I dropped her off around 7:00 and went by Ukrop's to get Nikole some food for breakfast -- including a gigantic box of her third trimester favorite, Lucky Charms. I came home and sliced strawberries, read the paper and threw some old clothes on in anticipation of some morning painting.
Nikole woke around 9:30 and we hung out for a few moments listening to the birds outside, singing to Thea as she squirmed around her mom's belly, playing with one of the cats. Nikole felt very relaxed, and happy. We were ready for a quiet, stress-free Friday.
At 9:50 -- as I was getting ready to slide a pan of cinnamon rolls into the oven -- she called out from the bathroom, "I'm bleeding! And it's red!"
That's the new Code 3 in our house. I hit the off button on the oven, grabbed her cell phone and started dialing her doctor's office. We knew that her OB (who was going to be doing the surgery on Tuesday and who we both genuinely trust and adore) was out of town for two days (and had been joking all week that something would happen as soon as Dr. Murray was on the road). The nurse told us to come right in to the office, so Nikole got dressed and I grabbed her purse and we bolted.
At 10:05 she was getting in the elevator and I was parking the Jeep.
When I got to the waiting room, she was sitting in a chair. The bleeding had slowed, and was nowhere near as dramatic as our late night scare a month earlier. After five minutes of waiting, we both began to get a little annoyed -- after all, the last time she bled the team in Labor and Delivery was going to town with IVs and steroid shots and prepping for the worst. The pace of things this time seemed a bit surreal.
Thea was still wriggling around, so we knew she was okay. The nurse checked her heartbeat, and then Dr. Schoeffler came in. He asked a few questions, checked Nikole's bleeding and told us that all of the doctors were familiar with Nikole's case and that he'd check us into L&D for observation. His quick sense was that he'd prefer to move forward with a full staff, a good plan and some focus rather than risk an emergency c-section with a skeleton team at two in the morning on Sunday. But he wanted to talk to some other doctors and get a feel for how Nikole and the baby were first.
So, off we went to the familiar stomping grounds of Labor and Delivery.
We got to L&D and they put Nikole in a bed, strapping her and the baby to the all-familiar monitor. Most of the rest of the afternoon was a blur.
Our friend Nancy arrived. Nikole's mom and stepfather got there. We milled around a bit, waiting for the doctor to come by and give us some news. By about two o'clock, I think we knew that were having a baby -- it was just a question of when. We knew that Drs. Schoeffler and Love would be doing the surgery; that Dr. Troyer was tied up at St. Mary's and Dr. O'Connell was up to her arms in c-sections; and that we just needed to relax as best we could.
Our nurse, Kim, was the nurse who had checked us in the last time we were in L&D and she was great. She checked in with us constantly, and walked us through what was going to happen. She laughed at our nervous jokes. Everyone was fascinated by a large sheet of purple construction paper Nikole had with her. It was covered with bright stickers and handwritten affirmations -- "I am strong" and "TES is strong" and "Giving birth is not the hardest thing I will do for TES". Friends of Nikole's wrote it with her, and we planned to tape it where she could see it during surgery.
A bit after four, they came for us. Nancy decided to wait in our room, while my mom, my friend Tom and Nikole's mom and stepdad waited outside in the sunshine.
As they took Nikole back into the operating room to insert the catheter and numb her up, I nervously paced the hallway in my blue scrubs. I chatted with my dad for a few moments (he's been dead for 10 years) and he didn't have much to say. And then they told me to come into the room.
Nikole was stretched out on a table, and they were still getting her prepped -- covering her torso with plastic, putting up a screen to block our view of the surgery. I sat just beside her to the left and we just started whispering to each other, focused on some of the suggestions made by Kristin and Melissa, and by Nancy. We read the affirmations quietly to each other -- they were hanging on an IV stand just next to us -- as the doctors made the first incision.
We focused on our breathing, and on each other's eyes, and let the sounds of the surgery wash past us as much as possible. My eyes broke contact with Nikole's only occassionally -- to see what the anaesthegialogist was doing, and to see what the NICU team was doing. Mostly in those first few moments there was nothing in the room but the two of us.
"We have a butt," Dr. Love announced. We both heard a little bit of a gurgly sound followed by the powerful roar of a newborn, 36-week-old baby girl. Her loud cries were a welcome sound, an indication that our little girl was alive and healthy and has powerful lungs.
"That's our baby," Nikole said in an awed whisper. It was 4:59 in the afternoon.
It seemed like it took forever before Dr. Dhande, who was leading the NICU team, tapped me on the shoulder. "Dad," he said in a warm, but clipped, accent. "Do you want to meet your baby?"
I walked over to the warmer, where Thea was squawling up a storm, and just stared. I asked if I could touch her, then reached out and touched her little fingers. I took several photos, then went back to Nikole's side (checking out the grotesque mess that is a c-section -- blood, a gaping hole in her stomach, a giant purplish uterus being stitched up -- along the way). We whispered about our daughter -- she is beautiful, she is alive, she is strong, she is here, we love her so much, she loves us so much.
When Dr. Love started cracking the jokes, we knew the worst was over. "Dad," he said, "get over here and help finish this up."
"He's not qualified," Nikole said.
"If he can grill a steak, he can close this up," Dr. Love responded.
"He ruined my hamburger last night," she said.
A moment passed. "Mom, Dad, I think she's a Democrat," he said.
"No, she's going to rebel and be a Republican," I responded. "In ten years, she's going to be throwing our recycling out onto the street just for spite."
Dr. Dhande's team prepared Thea for a trip to the NICU to check her weight, her lungs and her blood. I wasn't allowed to go with her. I asked Nikole if she wanted me to let her mom know that she and Thea were okay. She said yes.
Before Thea left, they brought her to her mother for an introduction and some tearful kisses.
First quick stop along the way -- to the room to let Nancy know. Big, tearful hugs. And then outside, where Nikole's mom was so nervous and anxious to hear that everything was okay. More big, tearful hugs. I felt like I was reciting our affirmations as I told everyone -- Nikole is fine, the baby is fine, their bodies are strong, the baby is beautiful, everyone is safe.
And while both Nikole and the baby lost a little blood when the placenta was cut, none of our worst fears entered the room.
I asked Pat if she wanted to go inside with me and wait for her daughter. As we went in, Dr. Love was coming out -- on his way to St. Mary's for more work.
The rest of the evening was a blur, too. We paced a bit, wanting to see Thea. NICU was slammed, as was Labor & Delivery. They started diverting L&D patients to other hospitals earlier in the day, and it seemed like there were as many as six c-sections that afternoon. Damned full moon.
Nikole's dad and grandfather came by to give her a hug. I pestered the NICU with phone calls. Finally, Pat and Nancy and I headed down there and we all officially met the beautiful little Thea.
It was close to 10 o'clock before we were able to wheel Nikole in her bed through the hallways and into the NICU. Because she couldn't scrub, she had to put on gloves, and she wasn't able to hold her.
We were reunited with our awesome nurses on the 3rd floor (they remembered us from our emergency visit!) and settled in for a restless night.
On Saturday, Nikole and Thea spent two long hours snuggling in the NICU.
It's official. We're in love.