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Today is a huge day in the Mommy Points household. Even bigger than snagging a coveted international first class redemption or mistake fare. It is our daughter’s birthday. For us, her birthday is a big deal. In addition to all the normal reasons a child’s birthday is a big deal, it is an even bigger deal to us because shortly after her actual birth day, when she was just a few days old, we had to watch her fly away from us. It really reinforced the whole fragility of life thing that many are lucky enough to not encounter with their own kids until much later, if ever. I told this story before on her 2nd birthday, but thought I would share it again today on this 4th celebration of her birth day.

I know it seems sacrilegious for a self-proclaimed point-a-holic to spend $23,000 on a flight that earned zero miles, but just a few years ago we did just that. I’ve been waiting for a while to tell this story, and I think tonight is the right time. Apologies in advance for the length, it is just that kind of story.

Four years ago today we celebrated the birth of our baby, known here as “Little C”. She was due on Christmas Day, which is fitting considering how crazy my family is about Christmas. In fact, her middle name is actually an ode to Christmas. I was in labor for 27 hours (which royally sucked), but other than a little scare with the umbilical cord around her neck when she was born, we had a perfect delivery and a healthy baby girl.

We were discharged home from the hospital on Christmas Day 2009. Like most new parents, we were exhausted, overwhelmed, but excited to begin our life as a family of three. We celebrated Christmas that year at my house in Austin. We were lucky enough to even have my parents temporarily move in with us to help us get settled with our new baby.

When C was four days old, she was due back to the hospital for a newborn check-up. Because of the holidays, the pediatrician’s office was closed, so we had to go back to the labor and deliver floor for that check-up. We could tell that she was somewhat jaundiced, and she had been “difficult” at night, but we thought that was mostly normal. We planned to go up to the hospital for a quick check and then get home in time to watch the Kansas City Chiefs play football on TV. Within minutes of getting to the hospital for the check-up, they drew blood to check her bilirubin levels. A few minutes later, she threw up what appeared to be old blood. Then she did it again. I don’t even remember reacting to that – I think I was in a bit of shock at what was happening. Naturally, the nurse who saw her vomit blood was concerned and phoned downstairs to the ER. She then walked us down (quickly, I might add) to the ER to get C looked at. We were no longer at a routine check-up.

I remember in the ER that C was starving and crying, so I went ahead and nursed her. They checked her vitals, but I don’t remember much other than that. I do remember pretty early on that it was clear she was not going to be going home with us that day, and that she was going to have to be admitted to the hospital. Not only that, but she was going to have to be admitted to the Children’s Hospital that was about 90 miles away. I do remember crying some. I remember my husband crying a lot.

I sent a text to my mom to let her know what was happening, because I just couldn’t get the words out. I asked her to pack up some overnight things for us, and meet us at the hospital 90 miles away. I remember it being hard to tell her what to pack for me – I had just delivered C four days ago, and the list of things I needed was quite long, but my mind was having trouble focusing on logistics. After we had been waiting for the ambulance transport for about an hour, the doctor came back and said he had “more news”.  We had gotten to know all of the nurses that day in the ER and we could see all of them sticking their heads into the door frame as the doctor gave us “more news”. He said that because of the holiday traffic, and the fact that the head of the neonatal ICU is very concerned about a four day old infant vomiting blood, they have sent the neonatal transport team by helicopter to bring her to the hospital. They were to arrive any minute.

The neonatal team arrived and promptly pumped her stomach – the milk I had just fed her was now being pumped back out, and it was all tinged with blood. Of course, C was absolutely hysterical. They couldn’t get an IV in her despite multiple attempts. They then put her in one of those transport containers they put E.T. in when he got really sick. I held her hand through an opening in the container as they prepped her to go to the helicopter. Because of the weight limit, neither of us were permitted to fly with her.

It would be fair to say that we were sobbing through much of this – honestly many of the nurses were, too. In fact, one nurse told us that the Vietnam Veteran who flew the helicopter was also seen with a few tears sneaking out. It was heart-breaking for all of us. We walked with her out to the helicopter pad, and I had to watch my four-day-old baby take-off into the air without me as the nurse, my husband, and I held each other. I can’t tell you how much that hurts. We didn’t know what was wrong with her. We didn’t know what would happen once she got to the hospital. We didn’t know what news would be waiting for us once we got to the hospital. All we knew was she was now in the air heading towards the NICU alone. Her first flight was a $23,000 solo flight at four days old that earned no miles.

My parents actually beat us to the NICU and took a few pictures of us arriving and getting ready to go back and see our baby. My family takes pictures of all things – good or bad. These photos help me remember what that day was like.

The next few days were extremely difficult. They didn’t let her nurse or take a bottle for 24 hours, so she essentially wailed with hunger for 24 hours straight. We couldn’t hold her because she was under bili lights for her jaundice. All we could do is watch our baby scream, and try to rub her to calm her down.

The Ronald McDonald House near the hospital graciously took us in so we could stay as close to the hospital as possible. However, since I was a nursing mom, I had to wake up every three hours at night and drive back up to the hospital to pump the milk I was producing. By the time we would get back to sleep it would be time to wake up and do it all over again. The parents in the NICU, ourselves included, all looked like the walking wounded. Still functioning, but yet not.

The short story of what happened over the next few days was that they never found any thing horrifically wrong with her. The best guess of what happened was a very irritated digestive track and/or a lesion that developed and ruptured from her bad reaction to cow protein in my milk. She also had pretty severe acid reflux. We were the lucky ones. During our stay in the NICU we saw many babies who weren’t in near as good a shape as C was. We saw a family there with the chaplain as Last Rites were read for their baby. If that doesn’t impact you as a person, nothing will. If we didn’t know this already, we certainly saw first-hand how fragile and short life can be.

Most thankfully, we got to take C home from the hospital (for the second time) on December 30, 2009. However, much of her first year was very hard. She continued to have real pain after eating, I had to cut out all dairy (amongst other things) from my diet so I could continue nursing her, and to say she had colic would be a dramatic understatement. She would cry though the night and then through much of the day, especially for the first three to four months. She had severe projective spit-up/vomit many times a day for months and months. It was very, very hard. We didn’t travel with her during those months.  In fact, it was the furthest thing from our minds for most of the time. We were just trying to survive.

As her first birthday came around, things got much better. She outgrew her digestive issues and we were able to slowly start living, instead of just surviving.

We took our first airplane trip with her when she was eleven months old. And then our second. And third, etc… Today as we celebrate her second birthday (now fourth birthday), I am just thankful for my healthy, rambunctious, smart, beautiful daughter. For me, birthdays aren’t just a party – they truly are a celebration of birth and of life. I know that not all of the babies in the NICU with her had the gift of being able to celebrate a another birthday. So, when we do birthdays we really celebrate. Today she got a new swing set, rode fake ponies, and even had two real ponies in her backyard. She was thrilled.

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Fourth birthday celebration
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Fourth birthday fun – tissue paper is awesome!

I wish we could have really enjoyed more of our time with her as a newborn, but I am also certain that what we all went through made us individually and collectively stronger. I think it also is part of what drives me to keep her connected to family around the country (and as a result, obsessed with earning the miles and points to be able to do that). I am certain the experience has helped shape who C is as a person. I mean, how many people can say they flew as an “unaccompanied minor” at four days old? Also, it is because of our experience and the generosity of the Ronald McDonald House that they will always hold a special place in our hearts (and wallets).

Happy birthday, C.  Here’s to many, many more.

HULL86
Photo by Johanna McShan

Oh and one more thing Little C, if you ever have a $23,000 flight again, please be sure you are on a mileage earning fare.

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