Wednesday October 24th, I gave birth to the most perfect little human I’ve ever seen. Her name is Lucy Rose Ells. Weighing in at 7lbs, 14oz and 22 inches long, Lucy was a force from the start. With the help of excellent doctors, nurses, Zach, and my mom, I succeeded in bringing her into the world safely.
Tuesday night, Zach and I went to Lankenau to begin the induction. I took my first dose of medicine and settled in for the long haul. As I laid in the hospital bed with Zach at my side, we watched the first game of the World Series. Talk about my “labor plan” not going the way I thought. I never thought I’d have to be induced and I never thought I’d be watching a Red Sox World Series while being induced. Once again, life proves not everything goes according to plan. In the middle of the night, the contractions began and the discomfort set in. I think the contraction pain rivaled the pain of watching a Boston sports team. I was able to push through the hours and focus on my goal. I was on the final leg of my journey to meet our baby.
At 7am, the resident taking care of me told us we were moving to a labor and delivery room. I walked to the next room in my hospital gown looking like a surge protector. Multiple wires hung down from me from my IV to the heart monitor they had strapped around my belly.
Once settled, I was given more medicine to make the contractions increase. By 10am, I got the epidural and life was blissful. I couldn’t feel my hips or my legs and it was great! I sat chatting and laughing with Zach as we guessed at what it would be like to be parents and what our baby would look like. Even as I sat there unable to feel my legs with wires attached to me and monitors beeping off and on, I could not comprehend that I was going to be pushing a human being out of my body.
My parents and Zach’s parents came through and various family members appeared. Everyone was brimming with excitement. I expected it to feel like it would drag on, but I think time flew by. Before I knew it, my doctor was telling me to push.
I had Zach and my mom to my left side and a nurse on my right. Front and center was my doctor, Dr. Hammerel. Dr. Hammerel has been with me since the beginning of my journey. She rearranged her schedule that evening because, in her words, “I feel like I’m meant to deliver this baby.”
I couldn’t have asked for a better team. With Zach in my ear counting to ten for each push and telling me he loved me, my mom telling me how strong I was and how proud she was, and the doctors and nurses continuously telling me I was doing an amazing job, labor honestly wasn’t that bad.
I conjured up a strength from the deepest parts of me. All of the feelings I had developed over time fueled my power to push my baby out. This was it. This was the moment I had waited for. This was MY time for MY baby. Everything that had happened leading up to it happened to make me stronger. It all happened so this particular human being could have a place in this world. This child was meant for greatness. This child was meant to be with me and Zach. With each passing push, I felt stronger. I focused on my doctor as she coached me through the final pushes. It was such a blur. Quite literally, considering I didn’t have my glasses on.
As I pushed with every ounce of myself and roared through my teeth, the doctor pulled my baby up into view.
“It’s a girl!” Zach proudly announced to the room.
I was shocked! A girl! I had a girl! My mom rejoiced, “A girl, a girl! My girl had a girl!” The medical staff celebrated. My baby entered the world the way every baby should, to a round of applause. The staff cleaned her up and brought her back to me. She instantly calmed down as she rested peacefully on my chest. Finally, I got to feel the greatest feeling in the world.
Zach and I couldn’t take our eyes off of her the rest of the night. After meeting both sets of her grandparents and her aunts and uncles, we were moved to the next room. Our nurse came in and explained to me how to take care of myself and asked me about my pain level. Pain? I felt no pain. The love and admiration I had for Lucy overpowered any other feeling in my body. I was a mom, Zach was a dad, and this blessed gift from heaven was our baby girl.
Lucy’s first full day with us was magical. We had a few visitors come through, including a photographer who took beautiful photos, but for a majority of the day it was just us. Our new family of 3. We watched her as she slept and hung on every little sound she would make. Her eyes didn’t open much, but when they did it was easy to get lost in her mesmerizing gaze.
Near midnight, I fed Lucy and the nurses came to take her for her evaluation. The nurse asked if I wanted them to keep her until she was ready to eat. I remembered my mom saying, “If they ask if you want her taken to the nursery at night, do it. Get some rest with Zach because you won’t be getting much when you get home! It’s a good opportunity for the nurses to keep an eye on her too.”
They took my baby from me at midnight. Zach and I drifted off to sleep as dreams of being with our Lucy flooded our minds.
I heard the door open and the lights went on in a flash. I eagerly sat up thinking it was time to feed my precious new baby.
A tall man in a white coat approached my bedside, but Lucy was not with him.
This doctor sat down in a chair next to me and a flood of information came at us. It was all a blur. Involuntary movements, blood tests, spinal tap, possible MRI, EEG, maybe a strep infection, possible meningitis. Those are just a few words I can recall.
Was I dreaming? I just saw her two hours ago. My baby was perfect. What the hell was this guy talking about? He had to have the wrong baby, but he kept saying her name.
We are monitoring Lucy. Lucy may need further testing. Lucy is exhibiting involuntary movements. Lucy may be having seizures. Lucy has been sent up to the NICU.
My Lucy?? Lucy Rose Ells, my first baby? My rainbow baby? My baby is in the intensive care unit? Zach and I sat there immobile. I don’t remember taking a breath. I held it hoping I would wake from this nightmare. Zach may have asked questions, but I can’t remember. All I remember is nodding my head as the doctor said, “We will contact you with more updates.”
Our hearts ached. Unsure of what to do or how to process it, I called my parents. They answered on the first ring. I relayed what I could to them through intermittent sobs. I knew they could calm me down with their combined medical knowledge and of course their soothing way of talking. I needed to hear their opinions. I just needed to hear their voices. There I was, a new mother, calling on my own parents to help me.
I told them not to come yet and that I would call with any news. Zach and I told each other it would all be okay. I don’t know if either of us believed it or if we said it to calm each other, but we laid our weary hearts to rest and attempted to go back to sleep.
Our door opened again. I shot up in bed. My heart instantly felt a calmness. My parents had arrived. Even though I told them not to come, they knew in my voice that I needed them. My mom hugged me and it calmed me in a way only my mom’s hugs do.
After talking, the four of us fell into a broken sleep until the doctor came back a few hours later. At that point, he said he had already ruled out various problems, which was good. All her lab results were coming back normal. His primary concern, however, was her brain. The seizures were a result of some event that occurred in her brain. He wanted to send her for an MRI and an EEG asap.
It was her brain. Something was wrong with our baby’s brain. How could this be? She seemed normal. How did we not catch that something was off? The doctor said the seizures she was having were so subtle that they were hard to identify. The normal movements newborns make are already sudden and weird that catching the slight involuntary movements she was making was hard to do. That’s why they needed an EEG done, to monitor her brainwaves and catch how often she was seizing. God bless the nurses in the nursery who caught these subtle movements. Thank God I listened to my mom and sent Lucy to the nursery for the night.
Morning to afternoon
As the day wore on and we waited and worried, more family appeared. My three older brothers left work to be with us. Zach’s parents and his sister and brother-in-law came. A few of my aunts came. The texts and calls came flooding in from various family members and friends extending their prayers. Word traveled fast that we needed prayers. No matter what was going to happen to this baby, she had a lot of people to support her. The nurses and the social worker on staff at the NICU who spent the afternoon with us commented on how much support we had. That’s what family is all about. In times of need, family shows up.
Waiting was hard, but not being able to hold our baby was grueling. Zach and I yearned to hold her and comfort her. We felt so helpless. We sat for hours with our family. My dad, brothers, and mom used their medical expertise to try and figure out what it could be. Being from a family of doctors and a nurse and having worked in a medical office, I am familiar with the terms the doctors were throwing at us. I understood the severity of the situation, but part of me wished in those moments I was ignorant. Maybe it would have been easier to digest if I wasn’t familiar with what it could be.
Various scenarios uncontrollably passed through my mind. First and foremost, what if she died? What if she had some sort of severe brain damage that she couldn’t recover from? What if we were going to leave the hospital without our baby girl? It was a morbid thought, but I couldn’t help it. I felt like I had to prepare myself emotionally and mentally for any possible outcome. What if she was going to struggle the rest of her life? She didn’t deserve that. She is an angel. Why did she have to go through this? Why did Zach and I have to be tested again? Didn’t we learn enough lessons already? Why was God being so cruel?
By late morning, we were allowed to see Lucy in the NICU. It was the first time we saw her since midnight. Poor little Lucy was hooked up to monitors and her face was puffy from the fluids. She was groggy from the seizure medicine, so she wasn’t responding to us except for the occasional grip on our thumbs. There was a screen monitoring her heart rate, blood pressure, etc. She didn’t look like the baby I had held just hours before.
As we sat with her, we witnessed her seizures. In retrospect, we realized we had seen the subtle movements the day before. If we hadn’t sent her to the nursery, we may have brought her home never knowing she was struggling. We watched as her head twitched. Her little hands and feet shook so lightly. She was so dainty even her seizures were dainty. We held her hands as the tremors set in, whispering in her ear that she was going to be okay. We told her how strong she was and how we would do everything we could for her. We told her how much we loved her. She clutched Zach’s thumb as he kissed her on the head. I had to look away at moments, it was too much for me. But Zach, Zach kept his eyes focused on her the whole time. It was the hardest moment of our lives watching our baby girl in distress.
They did an ultrasound of her brain and those results showed there was no active bleeding. However, the MRI results came back with evidence. One of the doctors overseeing her care guided us to a small room. There were three spots of damage on her brain. Lucy had suffered a form of stroke. They weren’t sure of the severity of it or even when it happened. The doctor started firing questions. “Did you have complications during pregnancy? Did delivery go okay? You’ve had two miscarriages, was this a natural conception? Did you take fertility drugs? Do you have a history of a blood clotting disorder?” I understood she had to cover all the bases and get my proper history, but my mind was spinning out of control. There were no complications, pregnancy was natural, I didn’t take any medicines, I had no history of blood clotting issues. My miscarriages were random. Why is she asking this? Was this my fault?
After further monitoring, the NICU doctor decided that they weren’t able to provide the care Lucy needed. An adult neurologist reviewed her MRI results and what they needed was a pediatric neurologist to review it. They didn’t want to keep pumping her with more seizure medicine when they weren’t sure of the dosage she needed or how to move forward. She suggested we transfer her to Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia (CHOP) NICU for further evaluation and a firm diagnosis. My family is personally familiar with CHOP and my brothers wives have friends who work in the NICU. They took to their phones to ensure Lucy would get a spot. My dad called our childhood pediatrician right away and he gave him the number of one of the neurologists there. Zach and I are so grateful for the care the doctors and nurses at Lankenau gave to Lucy and to me. We are most grateful that they recognized so quickly that they couldn’t provide what Lucy needed. In situations like these, time is of the essence. How lucky was Lucy to be born in a city with the best children’s hospital in the country.
As details were being finalized, I went back to our room to lie down. I needed to get off of my feet. I was so concerned for Lucy that it didn’t register that I was in physical pain. I had to remember that I was in recovery and I needed my strength so I could be there for my baby. I sat alone in the hospital room crying. This was not how I pictured my second full day as a mom. Okay, God. I get it. Life does not go as planned.
The door opened and my three big brothers came in. “What stuff needs to go?” I told them and without hesitation they started gathering my things. With the help of the doctor in the NICU and the contacts we had, Lucy was secured a room at CHOP and an ambulance was coming. All I could do was cry and thank them. The three of them reassured me it was going to be okay and they reinforced how strong I was.
I drifted off to sleep. I have no idea how much time went by, but I heard the door open again. It was my dad. He came up to my bedside.
“She’s going to be okay, Kate,” he said. I looked in his eyes. Tears were welling up and there was a cracking in his voice. My dad is the strongest and smartest man I know. It was one of the few times I have seen him vulnerable. I wasn’t sure if he believed what he was saying or if he was being a Dad and saying it to make me feel better.
“Are you sure?” I croaked.
“She’s not going to die from this,” he said firmly. It’s as if he knew my mind was drifting in and out of the darkest corners. He knew that’s what I thought might happen. “She’s going to be okay. And if she needs help along the way, we will all do everything in our power to help her. She has the resources.”
“Okay,” I said.
I believed him. I always believe and trust in my dad. This was one of those moments in life when I felt like an adult. He was talking straight with me. No sugar coating. His vulnerability was real. I believed he knew in his heart that my baby was going to be okay. If my dad believed it, then I believed it.
When the ambulance arrived, one of the responders was a girl I knew when I was younger, another guardian angel for Lucy. I watched as this girl from my youth assisted with packing my baby up on a stretcher. It’s amazing how people resurface in your life in different ways. She was so kind and professional and I felt reassured that Lucy was with someone I knew.
By the time Lucy was ready, everyone was already at CHOP waiting for us. Zach’s parents drove us down behind the ambulance. I could see through the windshield into the back of the ambulance. I was in a car following an ambulance with our baby inside. I cried to myself the whole way there, Zach’s hand clutched in mine. I turned a few times to look at him. We didn’t need to say anything out loud, our eyes spoke for us. Everyone kept telling me how strong I was being. Zach was the reason for that strength. Not sure what I would do without Zach. As a team, we have become an unstoppable force. The path to becoming parents had bumps in the road and now our first days as parents were turning out to be the most stressful of our lives. With the darkness I felt in my heart, I still felt an overwhelming positive feeling that we would get through it together.
We entered the hospital through the back entrance with the responders and Lucy. We got to Lucy’s room in the NICU. The team greeted us and before I knew it, Lucy was set up in her bed with the monitors going and a plan was in motion. My baby was where she needed to be and we had met incredible people along the way to get her there. Zach and I both felt a little relief.
The plan was to stop the seizure medicine and hook Lucy up to an EEG machine for an extended period with a camera on her so the neurologists could track her brainwaves along with viewing her movements.
After getting her set up, we went back out into the waiting room. Our visitors took up the entire room. We were surrounded by support and love. We sat down to talk with everyone. They offered us food and encouraged us to reenergize so we could be strong for Lucy. As we sat there, comforted with the love of our family, one of my brothers switched the channels on the TV. I looked up and there was an infomercial for I Love Lucy.
“Oh my God,” I said through my tears. “If this isn’t a sign, I don’t know what it is. When do you ever see an infomercial for I Love Lucy?!”
It showed various clips from different episodes and we all laughed together. God was with us and he understood our pain. He knew we needed a moment of levity. He knew how much we loved Lucy.
Visiting hours came to an end and our extended family went home. Zach and I set ourselves up in the room they provided us. We had two single beds. We each sat down on our own bed. The room was small, but I felt so far away from him. All I wanted was to lay my head down next to his. For the first time all day, he sat with his head in his hands, he look defeated. He said, “I want to cry for her. But I’ve cried so much, I don’t know if I have anything left.”
I walked over and I hugged him. I wanted to lift him up after he had been holding me the whole day. Here we were experiencing the worst day of our lives, but somehow we each still had the strength to lift each other. That’s what love does. That’s what love is.
The weekend wore on and we continued to hear only good news about Lucy’s progress. Her vitals were fine, no seizures on record. With the help of my timekeeper, Zach, I pumped every 3 hours so my milk supply would be ready when Lucy was ready. He woke me through the night, he cleaned the pump machine, and bottled the milk. He was Lucy’s personal milk man. By Saturday evening, she was eating bottles of my milk. By Sunday, she was off the EEG machine. She was eating more. She had a glowing evaluation from the neurologist. By late Sunday night, they took her IV out. Everything was working out for Lucky Lucy.
The doctor said what happened to Lucy was hypoxic ischemic encephalopathy (HIE). At some unknown point, there was a dip in her oxygen level affecting the blood flow to her brain. It could have been in utero, it could have been during delivery, they just don’t know. The MRI noted three infarcts, small localized areas of dead tissue resulting from failure of blood supply. The part of her brain that it affected was the frontal lobe. This particular region is not responsible for any major functions. In other cases when this happens, it can affect major functions and can cause lifelong debilitating issues. Lucy is seriously lucky.
Other regions of Lucy’s brain would be able to make up for what she lost. The doctor said Lucy exhibited mild symptoms and babies in her case turn out fine. The seizures she had were an affect of the event. He said typically in this scenario the child will exhibit seizures soon after the event but only for a couple days. She had the seizures Thursday and Friday. She exhibited no seizures from Friday night on. He reassured us that she would have little to no lasting affects. If she does have any deficits, they will likely be some learning issues that can be helped with early intervention. He instructed us to continue to monitor Lucy as she grows and to call if we ever notice an abnormality. He can’t predict the future. She may have affects later that we won’t be able to notice until the age of three or four, but as of now he is reassured that she will probably be fine. So, we continue on like normal parents, we will monitor our baby’s development.
By Monday, Lucy was breastfeeding. The team came through again to give her the final evaluation. Monday evening, Lucy was cleared to go home.
It’s been four weeks since she was born. It has been such a fun experience at home. Each day we see that she is growing and developing. Each night she is making her voice heard. She has a strong voice and a strong will, especially when we try to change her diaper or her outfit. We are so blessed to know this new type of love. She has not only brought Zach and I closer, but she has affected the lives of many. Since she was in the hospital and since being home, we have heard from various people about how many groups have prayed for her. Pretty sure the entire order of the Sisters of St. Joseph have prayed for her. Prayer groups in various states have her name on their list. Extended family and friends continue to text and call to check up on Lucy. Thank you to all those who have prayed and continue to pray. Thank you to all of those who have been our strength when we felt we couldn’t be strong. Thank you to my baby girl Lucy for being.
Lucky Lucy Rose Ells has reminded us of the power of prayer and love and the importance of showing up when others need you most. She has been with us about a month, but has taught us a lifetime of lessons. She is a miracle. She is an inspiration. I know I am biased because I am her mom, but it’s really true. I don’t know why this had to happen to her, but I know there must be a deeper meaning. For some reason, we had to weather one more storm before our rainbow could come home. This child has touched the lives of many and I know she is destined to continue to do so.