fourteen days ago i gave birth to my beautiful baby girl. fourteen days ago my life changed forever. i wish i could say it’s been rainbows and butterflies, but my reality is one that i’m eager to write about because there’s beauty in every birth story and ours has truly been one for the books. i’m really getting into the nitty gritty with this one, so this is your official trigger warning. this post contains sensitive subject matter. read on to hear about my labor, delivery, and what’s happened since.i’m writing this post from the stiff couch ‘bed’ of the NICU at morristown medical center in new jersey. i’ve been here since saturday march 2nd at 9am, when i discharged myself from overlook hospital 11 hours after giving birth to be by my daughter’s side.
on thursday february 28th around 10pm, my husband and i made our way to overlook hospital. i wasn’t sure what i was feeling… but as a first time mom, i jumped the gun and thought “maybe this is what labor feels like?” i was 39 weeks and (almost) 2 days when i arrived. turns out, i was only in pre-labor. i would have gotten sent home if it weren’t for a spike in my blood pressure, something that happened on and off throughout my third trimester. the doctors decided to induce me that night. i slept the night on two rounds of cytotec, a drug that’s meant to ripen the cervix. the next morning, they broke my water, started me on pitocin, and in about 6 hours i went from 3cm dilated to 10cm. labor was smooth sailing, especially after an epidural, but once it came time to push, the going got tough. i pushed for 3 hours – something i totally did not expect… but apparently that’s normal(ish) when it’s your first baby. the team kept me calm and we actually had a nice time ‘bringing the baby down’ despite how long it took. it was a typical friday night for the doctor who delivered. she was so casual and cool – and all of the nurses were kind and funny. one of them i knew from growing up back in the day which was a crazy coincidence… and one of the med students who assisted actually pops up in this story again.
i felt like i had cotton balls in my mouth. i was really overdoing it on the ice chips and realized i needed to cut back when i actually threw up into a plastic bag mid-push. i had an episiotomy, which has been an easier recovery than i would have thought…. i think stephen had a harder time with that one than i did!!! i looked over and he was GREEN, sweating profusely, and had to leave the room to collect himself. apparently, the doctor uttering the phrase “i’m gonna get us some more room” is what really pushed him over the edge. overall, though… he handled the birth like a champ.
the head is always the hardest part, and about 2 hours in they asked me if i wanted to use the vacuum. they told me the NICU team would need to be present and that instead of giving the baby right to me, they’d have to hand her over to NICU first for a quick evaluation. that crushed me, so i resisted…. but 40 minutes later i caved and shortly after, indie lee eidelman was born at 8:37pm on march 1st, 2019 weighing 6 lbs 11 oz, 20.3 inches long.
it was a blessing in disguise because the minute the NICU team took her, they recognized something was wrong. they placed her on my chest and i noticed, too. she took several minutes to cry, and she was regurgitating TONS of fluid and bubbling at the mouth. because i was diagnosed with polyhydramnios during my 3rd trimester (extra unexplained amniotic fluid), i had weekly ultrasounds and baby looked fine to the naked eye – however it turns out that she was born with a birth defect that is VERY hard to detect before birth. the reality is that even if you DID detect it…. there’d be nothing you could do about it until she was born, so in hindsight i’m glad i didn’t know… but in the moment, it led to some very traumatic events. this condition is called esophageal atresia with tracheoesophageal fistula, abbreviated as EA/TEF. it is not genetic, and simply a fluke – just like being born with a cleft lip. it’s not something we need to worry about happening again if we decide to have more kids. in fact, one in 4,000 births result in EA/TEF so the probability of it happening again – or even to anyone else we KNOW – is very slim.
here’s how EA works: the esophagus is supposed to connect to the stomach. some time during the first trimester, a misfire happens and the esophagus splits. one side ends completely, and the other side attaches itself to the trachea. this means, whenever the baby swallows, it comes right back up instead of going to the stomach. this was the cause and final explanation of my polyhydramnios… which otherwise was classified as a “mystery” – because baby was swallowing my amniotic fluid (as she is meant to)….. but it would come right back out again and accumulate inside my body. check out the diagram to see the difference:
back to the birthing room: the NICU team immediately rushed the baby into X-Rays. they inserted a tube down her esophagus and it coiled up before it could pass through to the stomach, confirming EA/TEF. our family saw her briefly – i held her for about 10 minutes in the NICU as doctors explained the next steps – and then she was transported 20 minutes away to morristown medical center, who’s NICU is one of the most advanced in our area. it felt like the thickest fog consumed my entire brain. it was 11pm. i had given birth two hours ago. my body felt like it had been hit by a truck. i was starving… and i couldn’t believe that i wasn’t holding my baby in bliss – but instead, i was listening to marching orders from an 8-person medical team, trying to comprehend and understand a condition that i hadn’t heard of until right then.
stephen spent the first night with our daughter. my mom spent that night with me. i was in complete shock and disbelief…. i didn’t sleep a wink. i went through the motions as the nurse taught me how to pump breast milk and how to take care of my episiotomy. they ran some bloodwork and confirmed that i’d be able to leave the next morning if i promised to take care of myself. it was only then, at 7am in the shower at overlook hospital, that i finally was able to just SOB after watching my 4 hour old newborn get taken on her own.
when i arrived at my baby’s side, she was hooked up to oxygen, a suction tube in her mouth, heart rate monitor, oxygen monitor, IV fluids… the works. i won’t share a picture of that because honestly it’s heartbreaking to see. she had life saving surgery at 35 hours old. they went in through a tiny incision beneath her armpit… snipped the fistula attached to her trachea and reconnected it to the rest of her esophagus. the fact that a team of doctors can do this – through that small of an incision – on that small of a human being – is absolutely mindblowing. stephen and i went to a diner for breakfast with my parents to try to take our mind off of the surgery. we waited impatiently right outside the operating room for her to be finished. when her surgeon came out with a smile on his face, we could finally breathe a sigh of relief. oh – and we were shocked and delighted to see that the same med student that was in our delivery room also walked out in scrubs. when we asked “how?????” she told us that she had been following indie’s chart since birth. she asked to be put on the surgery because she knew us. i couldn’t believe she had been there for two of my daughter’s major milestone events. we will forever keep in touch with her… because she has truly been a constant in our lives during this trying time.
all in all, the surgery was a success. in some EA/TEF cases, the gap is so far and wide that it involves multiple surgeries, stretching of the esophagus, dilating of the airways…. but in indie’s case, the gap was very easy to fix. sure… it’s more narrow than the rest of her esophagus – but it didn’t involve any stretching whatsoever (thank god), which gives her a much better chance of not having complications down the road. some complications that you could have with this condition involve transitioning from liquids to mashed solids…. and/or from mashed solids to actual solids as a child. typically by the time a kid is “a kid” they have no issues aside from potential acid reflux, which she’ll likely be on constant preventative medication for. we’ll have to watch for cues as she grows: excess mucus, turning away from food/aversions, and when she’s old enough, her actually telling us she feels something is ‘stuck’. if this were the case, the next step would be a second surgery, to dilate the part of the esophagus that was connected. that being said… oftentimes (especially in a milder case like indie’s) as a child grows, so does the repair. it stretches on it’s own and expands with the rest of her body. only time will tell, but the team here at morristown feels confident in her complete and seamless recovery.
she spent the first several days after surgery improving tenfold. she received a feeding tube (through the nose, bypassing the esophagus so it could heal, and going straight to her tummy) where she was eating solely my breast milk (proud mom moment!). all the other “wires” came out. no more suction tube, no more IVs…. just beautiful indie and her nasal tube. it felt amazing to see her more free to move and explore. she found her hands – she holds her pacifier – she stretches and kicks her legs – all things that were kind of restricted when she was needled, gloved and bogged down with wires.
five days post-op, they took her to radiology for a ‘swallow study’. they used a contrast substance (dye)… sent it through the mouth through the esophageal repair and into her tummy. unfortunately, that swallow study exposed one TINY leak. this is super common. typically, they wait to test for at least 7 days… but her doctor felt the repair was so easy that they could do it in 5. we overestimated and now we are waiting an extra week to test again. the only thing that will close up the remaining gap is time. there is nothing else that will fix it other than plain good old fashioned healing. i’m not going to lie. when i heard about the leak i had a complete and total meltdown. being in the NICU is so hard. it’s dark, it’s lonely. all you hear are babies crying and the buzz of medical equipment. it’s a 24 hour NICU, but by no means do they make it comfy cozy. in fact, most parents don’t sleep there…. but my husband and i have not left this girl’s side for more than a few hours at a time. i’m doing the days, he’s doing the nights, and she can feel our love and our energy with her at all times. i respect every NICU parent’s decision…. whether you can’t bring yourself to leave, or can’t bring yourself to stay. it’s such a personal journey of acceptance and patience and trust in a group of people who (in my opinion) truly do “god’s work”.
so what’s next for us? today – at two weeks old – we re-tested the swallow study. it was a SUCCESS!!!! there was no leak. she still has some aspiration into her lungs, which stopped once they thickened my milk with barium. obviously we can’t do that all the time, so it’s best if i opt to formula feed, thickening with a small amount of rice cereal. since she won’t ever be able to be on the breast solely, this route is easier for the both of us (as opposed to me pumping exclusively only to give her my milk from a bottle, thickened with artificial gel.)
her first “real” bottle feed was AMAZING! she gobbled down an entire ounce and wanted more, so they gave her a second ounce and she demolished that too. (she’s our kid, for sure). we’ll keep monitoring this feeding schedule every 3 hours for the next couple of days. once we know she’s got that down to a science… we can bring our girl home. i can not wait see that day. i never would have imagined in a million years that this would be our birth story. my husband and i have not slept in the same bed in over two weeks – yet somehow have grown infinitely closer. i literally watched myself fall more in love with this man when i didn’t even think it was possible. how quickly he became an amazing, natural father and our hero is astounding. i spend all my days in a hospital recliner – topless, with my daughter peacefully on my chest practicing skin-to-skin, thinking about all the amazing things she is going to do with her life. she is everything i could have wanted and more… and she was sent to us to teach us, to mold us, and to shape us carefully into parents who are resilient and kind and understanding. parents who know what’s important and what’s not. parents who will be her backbone when she needs it – and who will ensure she grows to have a strong one of her own. we will be there for every bump and every hurdle in her life… whether they be medical or otherwise – and we already know – deep in our hearts and our bellies – that there won’t be anything we can’t handle together as a family.
we’re not even home yet and already we have so much gratitude for the team of surgeons, doctors and nurses who have turned her little life around in just a few short days. sure… on the outside it looks like she’s been nothing but poked and prodded the entire time – but we know that this is all so temporary. we know that this is all so necessary. and we know that this is so she’ll thrive and flourish when we finally bring her home. i hope this post resonates with anyone who’s spent time in a NICU, PICU or ICU setting… and i know that sharing indie’s story will continue to keep this blog real and authentic. this little girl has changed me. she has changed my entire outlook and view on motherhood. she is the strongest person i know and i am the absolute luckiest to have this tiny little light in my life, to call my very own. and soon enough, indie-girl… we’ll be home.