My pregnancy with Mila was a roller coaster. A second trimester diagnosis that led to shots in my belly and a million appointments. A pandemic that left me isolated from friends and family. Pre-term labor at 30 weeks that landed me on bedrest. It was just me and my husband and a Costco sheet cake that supposedly feeds 48.
It was scary and lonely and nothing like I thought it would be. Cancelled showers and Non-stress-tests and I couldn’t even nest in my own home or organize junk drawers due to my lame incompetent cervix.
There was so much uncertainty and fear, both in the world and in my body.
Through all of that though, I clung to an image in my mind – the image of her being placed on my chest.
I was sure that in that moment it would be all worth it.
The injections and the tests and the appointments and the bedrest.
I envisioned looking at her for the first time and feeling her and kissing her and nursing her. I envisioned speaking to her and calming her with my voice and body against hers.
All of that would make it worth it.
But Mila’s birth story didn’t go quite like we hoped.
I didn’t get those moments with her. In fact, I barely saw my daughter on the day she was born let alone get to hold her.
It was this magical, beautiful day that took a traumatic and terrifying turn. Ultimately, we have our girl, our greatest gift, but it was the scariest day of my life.
We knew I would likely have her early because I stopped taking the medication to stop contractions at 36 weeks. At appointments throughout the week, I was told it was going to happen soon and that I wouldn’t make it to my induction date at 38 weeks. The day I turned 37 weeks, my water broke at home and Max and I headed to the hospital.
It was the most gorgeous late May day and the mood was light and my nurse was incredible. Everything was looking great. I got an Epidural, but my contractions weren’t strong enough to be making progress, so they started me on a medication to move things along. It was odd, because even before my Epidural, I didn’t feel any pain. I had basically been in labor for 5 days and through those days, I was definitely uncomfortable and felt pain and contractions in my lower back. But on the day she was born, I felt, weirdly normal and I couldn’t wait for the hospital quesadillas that I grew to love during my pre-term labor stay.
When things finally progressed, I began pushing and pushed for over 2 hours. Right before she was born, my nurse called down to the kitchen to order the quesadillas for me. And at 4:43pm on May 30, 2020, Mila Kay Maxwell was born.
The short story is that Mila was born stunned. When I saw her for the first time, I knew immediately something was wrong. She was limp and bruised from birth and not making a sound. I later learned her Apgar was a 2, which is awful and so scary to think about.
She was taken immediately to be worked on, and the minutes she was away from me, we didn’t have any information. It was the longest, scariest time of my life as I pleaded for information to know if she was okay. She did begin to recover, but they took her to the NICU to make sure she was stable and to monitor her. The original plan was that she would be in the NICU for just a few hours and then would join my husband and I in our room for the rest of the hospital stay.
Max went down with them and was able to spend some time with her and feed her. Her blood sugar was low and she was hungry. He was able to FaceTime me from an iPad in the NICU. The nurses were working with me to pump and hand express colostrum to feed her.
Max joined us back upstairs and the nurse forced me to eat the quesadillas. It wasn’t the celebratory dinner I imagined, but we were feeling positive. Soon after, I passed out in the bathroom and woke up puking those same quesadillas all over the nurse. It was in her socks. She was an angel.
We were excited to have Mila join us up in our room, however, a few hours later when the Nurse Practioner for the NICU walked into our room, my stomach sank. While being monitored down in the NICU, Mila had stopped breathing. We are SO thankful that her apnea episode happened while she was there, hooked up to monitors and being closely watched. They got to her quickly. My mind can’t think about what that night could have looked like if she was up with us sleeping in her bassinet.
After her episode, we knew she would be in the hospital for a minimum of 5 days. They ran a ton of tests to figure out why she stopped breathing, but ultimately didn’t come up with anything. This is great, but also terrifying to know she was so little and fragile and it could happen again. We left the hospital two days later without her after spending a couple sleepless days and nights holding her and nursing and snuggling her. Riots downtown Grand Rapids were going on for the third day, blocks from the hospital and I begged the nurse to throw her body over Mila if she needed to. Those nurses were so amazing, that I am sure she would have. Leaving Mila there was awful. We sobbed in the parking lot as we drove away leaving her in the hands of her nurses. Grateful and grieving.
Processing her birth story is complex for me. I would never want to sound ungrateful. She came home 6 days after she was born and I have my baby here. She is chubby and happy and healthy and her favorite song is the new Justin Bieber one. So the birth didn’t go as I planned…who am I to be upset over that?
I still find myself with a pang of jealousy when I see birth announcements, Mom and baby skin to skin in the hospital bed, recovering together, sharing those precious first moments.
That was supposed to be the moment it all became worth it.
But a few days ago, I realized something.
My husband and Mila and I were dancing in the kitchen to her favorite song. When the first few beats of this song begin, her hand starts to slowly wave and her face lights up.
My husband was lifting her up in the air and waving her around and the smile on her face was pure joy. It couldn’t have been bigger if she tried.
We were dancing and singing and swaying, and as I would go in to give her silly pretend kisses, she would laugh hysterically.
The music, the dancing, the laughter.
Does it get any better than that?
Of course I would have preferred a less traumatic birthday for my sweet Mila. Of course I would have loved to hold her against my chest for the first few minutes of her life. Of course it kills me that her first week I was only there as a visitor.
But as far as being “worth it?” The shots, the stretch marks, the bed rest?
I have reminders every single day of my life now how worth it it really was.
I didn’t have the moment I thought I would get to show me that.
But when she insists on “feeding” me after I give her a bite of food?
The way she settles down just feeling my presence walk into her nursery?
The lip kisses she plants on me without warning?
The way she will stop playing and raise a toy in the air to show me and make sure I’m watching?
Talk about worth it.
There have been one million little moments that make that clear.
Yet, motherhood has been a really hard adjustment for me. I was recently on the phone with an old friend and realized I had only shared the negative and the challenging with her in the conversation. In that moment I made sure she knew that yes it has been tough, but the joy and the love exceeds anything I ever imagined.
The hardship is worth it.
Things have a funny way of turning out much differently than we expect. The first time I held Mila wasn’t skin to skin, seconds after delivering her.
It was the next day, after she had her CPAP removed and was breathing well.
Her nurse handed me my sleeping, wire-laden, worn-out, 16 hour old daughter and the moment Mila heard my voice, she opened her eyes and looked right at me.
It was the best moment of my life.
And while I am glad I didn’t know about all of the complications her birth would bring while I was pregnant, if I could have seen that moment, I would have known that all the tears and fears and uncertainties were going to absolutely be worth it, too.
We are so grateful to God for His protection of both us and of our girl, the way he has sustained us through the highs and lows and been near. It has been a hard almost 9 months in my new role, with a thousand moments that felt impossible. But the joy and the love and the experience of raising my daughter, and the million little moments I’ve had with her so far are worth it beyond my wildest imagination.