Malachi's Story: Day One
Updated: Oct 12, 2022
September 29, 2021
Malachi Jude’s entrance into the world was one of the most beautiful and glorious moments. After pushing for an hour and a half, his body was fully out of my body and the doctor held him up for us to see.
At the sight of him, I felt an instant rush of love and amazement and awe that brought me to tears. My husband, Josh, cried too, and I knew he felt the same as I did at that moment. They put Malachi on my stomach, and I asked to have him up on my chest, but he was still attached to the placenta by his umbilical cord. I longed for this beautiful boy that made my body his home for the last nine months to be as close to me as possible. And I knew he wanted the same.
Once the umbilical cord was cut, I was able to move him onto my chest—his bare, seven-pound body snuggled up to me with a blanket over us. My legs were numb and essentially useless from the epidural, and the doctors were stitching up my insides which—even with an epidural—is an uncomfortable feeling. But I didn’t mind any of this too much because I had my baby right there with me where he was meant to be.
They took him to the other side of the room after about 30 minutes to run some tests and found that his temperature was slightly low, so they put him under a nursery warmer. I felt frustrated about this. I had just given birth to him, and I wanted him back on my chest as soon as possible, and I know that’s what he wanted, too. I waited impatiently, trying not to glare across the room at the nurse who made the decision to keep him under the warmer. I even said, “If his temperature is low, isn't it better for him to be skin to skin with me to help regulate his temperature?” Basically, the answer she gave me was “no, sweetie.” After what felt like too long (any amount of time felt like too long), when his temperature had reached normal, they put him back on my chest and we went to the family recovery room.
The night that followed his birth was a lot of what I experienced with my first baby—trying and re-trying to breastfeed, not having a lot of success with the latch, and worrying about what the breastfeeding journey ahead would look like. Also, the “normal” postpartum recovery of experiencing painful contractions during breastfeeding and needing help going to the bathroom. Oh, man. Going to the bathroom after having a baby. It hurts and is such a chore—squatting down on the toilet, spraying underparts with water, changing pads, getting up from the toilet, and clumsily attempting to pull the postpartum undies back on. It is rough.
Kai slept on my chest that night, and I remember he seemed restless and was shivering a little throughout the night. I kept thinking he was cold or hungry and would try to make him warmer and attempt to feed him over and over again.
The next morning, I was about to breastfeed him, when the lactation consultant who came to help with breastfeeding, noticed he looked a bit “dusky,” which meant that the color of his face and lips looked more blue than a normal newborn should. It had been dark in the room, so Josh and I hadn’t noticed. She turned the lights on to confirm the off-ness of his color and was concerned enough that she sent him to the nursery for observation.
I didn’t know it at the time, but in the nursery, they were checking his oxygen levels which read at 80, which is a troublingly low number for anyone, much less a newborn. Doctors and nurses were rushing into the nursery, trying different ways to get his oxygen levels up with no success, so they sent him down to the NICU for testing on his heart and lungs.
Our nurse came in and told me he was being sent to the NICU and the lactation consultant came in to tell me that I needed to try to pump some colostrum (the milk that comes in for the first few days before transitional and mature milk).
At this point, I thought maybe he would be in the NICU for a few days while they were figuring out whatever was going on, but that he would be fine and everything would generally be normal. We went to see him in the NICU, and he had all these wires and stickers connected to him, which was weird to see. They told me they were running tests on his heart and lungs and hadn’t gotten results back yet, but typically with what they were seeing, something is going on with his heart or lungs. I didn’t know what a best or worst case scenario was in this situation, so I tried to take it step by step and not catastrophize about what could be. When Josh and I were walking back to our recovery room, I said aloud the main thought I’d been thinking, “What is happening?” I just gave birth to our beautiful baby boy yesterday night, and he looked healthy and wonderful, and I thought our biggest problem was with getting him to latch well for breastfeeding.
That afternoon, we were back at the NICU next to our newborn boy, and these two doctors sat down to talk to us about the results of his tests. I’m positive they introduced themselves, but I didn’t even know who they were or where they were from in the moment. I just wanted to know what was happening with my son. And they were about to tell me.
One of the doctors drew a picture of a heart and told us about his condition. She talked about what a normal, healthy heart looks like and what his heart, with his congenital heart defect, looks like.
I had no idea what she was talking about. All I heard was that there is something wrong with his heart. I started crying. Sobbing. And through my tears I asked, “Is he going to be okay?”
As Josh and I walked back to the recovery room from that conversation, I could quite literally feel the earth tilt in a different direction. I looked around at other faces, and I could tell they didn’t feel the same shift in the earth that I did. But Josh and I felt it. Our world was not the same world that other people were living in. This was not at all how Malachi’s first day into the world was supposed to go. This is not at all how our second-time experience as parents to a newborn was supposed to go.
The transfer team arrived early in the evening to take Malachi to Dallas Children’s Hospital. A few NICU nurses and a team of three paramedics transferred all of his wires, lines, and the medical equipment onto his baby stretcher. They put him in a clear, plastic-walled incubator, and they told us he would be transferred in an ambulance to Dallas Children’s. We asked if we could go in the ambulance with him, but realized I wouldn’t physically be able to step up into the ambulance (because I gave birth a day ago) nor could I drive myself (so Josh couldn’t go either because he had to drive me). So we prayed, cried, and said, “We love you. See you in a little bit,” to our newborn baby in an incubator on a stretcher with lines and wires connected all over his little body, who was about to take his first ambulance ride on the first day of his life.
The nurses were still setting up all the wires and equipment when we got to Children’s. We had a long (honestly, pretty dismal) conversation with a pediatric cardiologist who re-explained Kai’s heart condition and helped us understand the journey ahead. We thought about staying the night at the hospital, but it was an uncomfortable set up for sleeping, I was very much in the early throes of postpartum recovery, and we wouldn’t even be able to hold him at this point. We prayed, cried (though I’m not really sure I ever stopped crying from the moment we found out he had a heart condition), and said our long goodbye, see you later, we love you so much.
We returned home, absolutely exhausted, to our bed where Kai’s bedside bassinet was set up. We were home only a day after giving birth, and his bassinet was empty. I pumped, set an alarm to get up in the middle of the night to pump again, and went to bed crying.
Tomorrow, Malachi would be two days old, and he isn’t with me. He isn’t cuddled up on my chest sleeping or lying across my body, breastfeeding.
He isn’t with me.
I’m not with him.
This isn’t how it’s supposed to be.