I think a baby’s first car ride is one of the most significant “firsts” that I wish all babies could experience.
I can hear you saying that there are so many adorable “firsts” for babies… why is the first car ride so important?
Because… the baby’s first car ride means that baby is healthy enough to go home.
So many babies have to wait far too long to take that journey. And tragically, not all babies ever get to be buckled into a car seat, soothed to sleep by the gentle rocking of the road, and welcomed home into a waiting family.
(Of course, there are babies born healthy in home births, so they don’t need to have a car ride home. Those lucky tykes can enjoy “home” immediately. Or if you happen to live close enough to the hospital, your baby might be walked home for the first time.)
Whether a baby gets buckled up and rides home several hours after delivery or several months after being cared for in the NICU, that journey is momentous.
When a new mother packs up her firstborn baby and fastens those straps for the first time, she leaves the hospital and enters the exciting and scary world of caring for her precious bundle in her own home.
Becoming a mother is the most awesome gift a woman can ever receive, and yet it is ridiculously terrifying. But I suppose not every new mother is as terrified as I was when I first brought home my baby Julia.
Before I had my baby, I don’t think I’d considered exactly how big of a deal her first car ride would be.
The Long Road Before The Car Ride
I had a long journey to get to the day I brought my first baby home.
I struggled with infertility for over 3 years. Those years were incredibly hard as I felt like I’d never be a mother.
Then, miraculously I got pregnant.
But, I was so scared something would go wrong.
Part way through the pregnancy, a test revealed my baby had a high risk of Down Syndrome.
I fell apart. I literally crumpled into a ball of tears as I told my doctor, “No. No. It can’t be. I won’t be a good enough mother. I won’t be able to handle it.”
My shock worsened when the doctor calmly suggested adoption or termination.
My tears halted as I told her that I’d never consider either.
I stumbled out of the office and down the hallway to the elevator. But I couldn’t even press the button. I sat down on a bench, called my mom and cried and cried and cried.
Before The Blogosphere
Back in 2004, when I heard my baby had a high risk of Down Syndrome, the blogosphere as we know it now, didn’t exist.
There weren’t thousands of blogs dedicated to parenting children with special needs.
You didn’t click on to Facebook and see the joy in the faces of these precious children who could show you that everything would be okay.
I felt so alone.
The toughest part of facing a crisis as a mother is the feeling of being alone.
It’s phenomenal how healing it is to know that there are other women out there who have been down your path and can lead you along.
I went online, but didn’t know where to turn.
But I knew that I wasn’t going to do further tests. Regardless of what happened, I would love and protect my baby.
By the time my water finally broke, I’d come to accept that there was a high chance my baby would have special needs.
I was terrified. I couldn’t wait to meet her… but I was so scared to finally find out what diagnosis lay ahead.
Incredible Joy and Unbearable Fear
Because of overcrowded hospitals, it took 4 days of waiting (with my water broken) for me to be given a hospital room and a nurse so that I could be induced and deliver my baby.
Anxiety ravaged my body, and after a long day in the waiting room I was induced into labor.
Several hours later, I gave birth to my precious baby Julia.
I instantly begged to know the answer, “Does she have Down Syndrome?”
The doctor quickly examined her and placed her on my chest. “She looks healthy,” he assured me.
My exhausted body and mind couldn’t contain my emotions, and I burst into tears.
Eventually, they wheeled me — still sobbing and as weak as I’d ever been — out of the delivery room and into a regular hospital room.
I felt astronomically blessed… and yet incredibly guilty at the same time. My baby was healthy. Why did we get to be so lucky and so many aren’t?
But I couldn’t really believe that she was actually healthy. I felt like at any moment, something terrible would happen.
She was so tiny… So close to almost not even existing. Anything could go wrong.
I was sooooo sick from my anxiety and postpartum depression that I felt like I couldn’t even breathe. I couldn’t eat. I couldn’t cope.
It Got Worse
And then the next day, it got worse.
The pediatrician came to check on my baby and reported that she had a heart murmur, likely caused from a hole in her heart and she’d have to be sent to cardiology for tests.
I almost threw up.
I literally could not process that information.
My baby had a “hole in her heart”??? Surely that must mean she’s going to die. How can a baby have a hole in her heart???
I was totally freaking out.
The nurses sedated me and they took my baby for tests.
The next few days are a blur to me. I was a basket-case of anxiety. It was surreal. The doctor tried to assure me that the hole was small and likely would not require surgery.
That meant it COULD require surgery.
I couldn’t possibly imagine my baby having open heart surgery.
Then I met a woman a few doors down whose baby was about to have that same surgery. I didn’t know how she was still standing. I couldn’t handle the possibility of the surgery and she was bravely enduring the reality.
Despite the hospital crowding and the typically fast turnaround time of newborn babies and their moms being released, the doctor had me stay for 5 nights.
Those days and nights were so difficult as I tried to battle my fears and cope with the exhaustion of caring for my new baby day and night.
She wouldn’t latch despite endless coaching from nurses and lactation consultants.
I sat for hours pumping and yielding only teaspoons of breast milk.
Then finally on our last morning at the hospital, a lactation consultant suggested I try a nipple shield to help my baby latch.
Success. For the first time, Julia latched and nursed. I cried in relief.
And then. It was time.
My Baby’s First Car Ride
With my own mother, sister and husband by my side, we packed up my precious baby Julia, buckled her in the carseat and headed HOME.
This was it.
I no longer had nurses to help me, but I also didn’t have the constant stress of medical staff checking my baby’s vitals throughout the day and night.
I was now just a regular mom, with a baby in a carseat, getting into the car to go home.
Joy and guilt that I was one of the lucky ones consumed me. I thought of the other mother who was still waiting for her baby’s heart surgery. I thought of all the mothers whose babies were in the NICU. And I thought of those whose babies were in Heaven.
I was completely overcome with emotion as my husband buckled our baby into the seat next to me. Holding her little hand, I thanked God over and over again.
That car ride home took us into our new normal.
My most important full-time, permanent job as Julia’s mother was in full swing.
It’s been over 11 years since I brought Julia home. She still has a small VSD (hole in her heart), but so far has not required surgery. We will be going for a check up with cardiology in a few weeks, but thankfully she’s been healthy and the VSD does not seem to have caused any problems.
Every single day I thank God for blessing me with my two daughters. I still feel a sort of guilt that I got to be so lucky. And I constantly think about and pray for all the parents who don’t get to take their newborn babies home from the hospital.
Watching your child suffer is a torment that no parent should have to endure. And yet, it becomes reality for so many.
I can’t imagine the struggle as I could hardly bear my own fears and they were nothing in comparison to what the parents of babies in the NICU must survive.
Thankfully, so many amazing nurses, doctors, support groups and organizations like March of Dimes recognize and work tirelessly to help ease the burden of parents with babies in the NICU.
My prayer is that all the mothers and fathers with babies in the NICU soon get to buckle their babies into carseats and take them HOME!!!
Give them tomorrow
It is easy to feel overwhelmed and helpless when we think of babies struggling in the NICU and their parents suffering unbearably.
But The March of Dimes gives us all a way to help.
Give them tomorrow is a universal call to do something today to help moms and to save babies. You can help us fight birth defects and premature birth to change lives.
The mission of the March of Dimes is to improve the health of babies by preventing premature birth, birth defects, and infant mortality. The March of Dimes carries out this mission through community services, advocacy, research, education and support.
Let’s all take action today!
- Share a social media post with the hashtags #babysfirst and #givethemtomorrow
- Write a digital message of hope with a card that will be delivered to a family with a baby in the NICU
- Donate to March of Dimes to support research to find the causes and treatments for premature birth
What Is Your Story?
I’d love to hear your stories. What has your road to motherhood been like? Have you experienced the NICU? Do you have a personal experience with The March of Dimes? What were some of your most memorable “firsts” for your babies?
Please leave a comment and share your experiences…
This is a sponsored conversation written by me on behalf of March of Dimes. The opinions and text are all mine.
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