But there is just a little bit more to his birth story, other odds and ends. Like the fact that when Judah was born, Larry was somewhere over the Pacific Ocean trying not to lose his damn mind wondering what happened.
I got to hold Judah for about seven minutes after he was born. “We have to take him up to the NICU now,” my nurse Kathleen said gently. I didn’t want to let him go, this snuggly little warm burrito baby of mine. Judah was whisked away.
Dr. Goodchild had to stitch me up: I had a tiny, tiny tear that needed a couple of stitches. Delivering the placenta was probably the most painful part of the entire ordeal. My friend Natalie noticed it was the only time I ever actually said, “Ow, that hurts” despite almost an hour of pushing. I noticed there were still a number of nurses remaining in my room and that Dr. Goodchild ordered a strong dose of “Miso” for me – shorthand for misoprostol, the generic name for Cytotec, and asked my family to leave while I got stitched up.
“Hold on,” I mumbled in my exhaustion. “I said I didn’t want Cytotec.”
Dr. Goodchild looked at me sternly. “I know, but we need to stop your bleeding right now.” I couldn’t tell if my woozy high and shivering was from the sudden adrenaline dump, the natural oxytocin rush or the massive blood loss. The nurses worked quickly to administer more postpartum medication to stop my bleeding. Thankfully, it stopped and I didn’t need any extra units of blood.
Once I was finally all taken care of down below, my families came back into the room. “Can I please have something to drink now?” I asked. My father-in-law handed me several foiled-topped cups of apple and orange juice. It was the most delicious juice I have ever tasted in my life.
I was up and walking within an hour. I was told I could finally go up to see Judah in the NICU at about 12:30am. I had gotten changed into a clean hospital gown and was being wheeled up to the 4th floor. My phone rang at 12:45am. It was a long, strange number I didn’t recognize.
Larry. It was Larry.
For a moment, I was confused: he wasn’t due to land at Dulles for another thirteen hours.
“Hello?” I answered.
“What’s happened? Is Judah okay? Are you okay?” Larry asked, frantically, unable to contain the panic in his voice.
“Hey honey! He’s perfect! He’s just perfect, Larry,” I said. I was stoned out of my gourd from the natural rush of endorphins and hormones post-birth. “Everything’s groovy. I’m going up to the NICU now.”
“Is he breathing okay?” Larry’s voice choked.
“He’s fine,” I cooed. “No respiratory issues, no cardiac issues. He even got 9′s on both Apgar tests!”
“So he’s okay? And you’re okay?” Larry was on the verge.
“Larry, I’m just groovy,” I smiled. I really liked the way the word “groovy” sounded in that moment. “And so is Judah. He’s perfect Larry, he’s just perfect.” I was wheeled into the elevator. “I’m getting into the elevator now, I might lose you.”
“I love you. I love you so much, Keiko. I’m so proud of you. I wish I was there right now,” he said.
“I know. I love you too, Larry. You’ll be here soon and you can meet your son.”
When I got to the NICU, Judah was in a holding room until his regular room could be fully set up. He was asleep in an open bassinet, his body criss-crossed with wires. I marveled at his tiny figure, sleeping peacefully. “As soon as we get him settled into his room, you can visit him anytime, Mom,” the nurse said to me. I was taken aback at being called mom for the first time since his birth.
After about fifteen minutes, we had to leave so they could finish prepping him. I was wheeled to my recovery room where a turkey sandwich was waiting for me.
It was the best fucking turkey sandwich I have ever eaten in my life.
Shortly afterward, a lactation consultant came by with a breast pump, giving me the complete rundown of my new best friend/most loathsome enemy. I pumped for about a half hour with little result, but I was determined to get my milk supply in as quickly as I could.
My mom stayed with me until about 2am, when I couldn’t keep my eyes open any longer. I told her to go home, get some sleep and that I’d see her in the morning. After she left, I closed my eyes and fell asleep instantly into a dreamless, deep slumber.
I awoke only four hours later, forgetful for a moment of where I was or what had happened. I thought I had been asleep for days, but it was just those four hours. I ordered French toast, bacon, home fries, tea, milk and orange juice for breakfast. Dr. Goodchild came in to order some bloodwork and to report that Judah did well overnight in the NICU.
After breakfast, I called my mom. She was already out running errands with my sister to buy me some pajamas and some postpartum clothes. Another nurse came in to check on me, another lactation consultant. Before family arrived later than morning, I wanted to take a shower. I carefully swung my legs over the edge of my bed, planting both bare feet firmly on the cold tile floor. I felt all of my pelvic and leg muscles shake for just a moment as I aligned myself to stand. My tailbone and sacrum felt detached from the rest of my spine and I was genuinely worried that I had dislocated both; thankfully, I hadn’t and it was all just swelling that went away after another day.
I stepped into the shower, letting my hospital johnny hit the floor while I searched for soap. Draped only in a towel that barely wrapped around my body, I had to page the nurse again.
“Do you have any soap or toiletries at the nurses’ station?” I asked meekly through the cracked bathroom door. My nurse met my gaze with sympathetic eyes. “Not really,” she said, “But I can give you the soap we use for newborn baths.”
This was the first moment that I realized I really wished I had my own hospital bag of items. She came back with a tiny trial size bottle of Johnson’s All Purpose Wash. It would have to do. I didn’t even have a washcloth.
The hot water felt incredible. I stood there for a long time, my hands bracing the wall, the water pouring over my head, face, and back. I glanced down and noticed for the first time that my characteristic bump, the one I had become so accustomed too in recent months, was replaced by a much flabbier, mushier version of itself. The enormity of the last 24 hours hit me all at once as I sobbed and sobbed: joy, exhaustion, excitement, relief and yes, even some sadness, but only fleeting. I cried until the water ran cold.
Larry called me as soon as his plane landed at Dulles at about 10:30am. Our friend Andy had driven from New Jersey to meet him there and drive him from the airport directly to the hospital instead of Larry hopping on another plane from D.C. to Philadelphia.
“Have you seen Judah yet?”
I replied that I hadn’t yet, that I was waiting to see him again until he got there. It’s hard for me to explain why I wouldn’t visit him in the NICU by myself but I felt very strongly about not seeing him again until Larry and I could BOTH see him together. I spoke with Judah’s NICU nurse about waiting to insert his feeding tube until after Larry got to see and hold him and they agreed.
Andy had to have driven pretty fast, because Larry got to the hospital just after 1pm. I had a mouth full of pudding as I had just finished my lunch. Larry looked weary but beaming with excited pride. “Don’t let me interrupt your lunch!” he mused.
“Hey big daddy,” I said casually. “Wanna meet your son?”
We walked up to the NICU, a trek we’d become all too familiar with as the days and weeks passed. We scrubbed up and the nurses greeted us, showing us to Judah’s room. His isolette was covered with a thick padded cover to block out the light. The nurse lifted it up for us and he there he was, sound asleep. He had a tiny preemie diaper and knit baby hat on and more wires than I remembered. Seeing him hooked up to so many wires sent me over the edge and I just wanted to tear off the plastic isolette and take him out of there.
We got to hold him for a little bit and we marveled at this new human being: our son. The nurses gently asked if we could step out while they inserted his feeding tube; it was time for me to pump again anyway. We came back later and held him some more; I even got to do some kangaroo care.
Family came and went, friends local to the area dropped by to meet our little man. The night I was discharged from the hospital, I had a full-blown panic attack at dinner, panicked at the thought of having to leave the hospital without Judah. I sobbed. It felt wrong to leave him there, against all of my instincts.
“We’ll be back there first thing tomorrow morning,” Larry assured me. I only nodded in agreement through silent tears as I stared out the window.
I recovered quickly, feeling pretty much back to my old self within a few days. Despite doctors’ orders of “no driving” for two weeks, I was back behind the wheel within a week, unwilling to be chaperoned around. (In New Jersey, your car is your lifeline and the ability to drive is paramount.) We spent endlessly long days hauling back and forth between our parents’ and friends’ homes and the hospital, wondering when we were ever going to see our home in Massachusetts again.
After 29 days, Judah breathed in his first whiff of fresh air the day he was released from the hospital. His bris was on Father’s Day. A week after he had been released from the hospital, we drove back home to Salem, finally.
The long journey was over: from infertility to IVF to Japan to New Jersey to our waiting arms. We were finally a family of three – Team Zoll, finally complete.
“Adventure is out there!”
And so the adventure goes on…