Here’s an unsolicited piece of advice about parenting, which I know is everyone’s favorite.
Don’t have a baby on Christmas Eve.
I mean, yes, there are elements of my second daughter’s entrance to the world that are happy and magical. First of all, she’s the best. And as I sat in my bed in an almost empty maternity ward on Christmas Eve, I felt like Mary herself: totally in love with this tiny baby and blissfully unaware of the holiday chaos outside.
And in addition to being born on Christmas Eve, she was also born on my mother’s birthday. It was the best combination birthday-Christmas gift I could have given Grammy and, well, everyone.
Also: TAX BREAK!
But Christmas comes in the middle of winter. And I’ll just say it: This winter has been hellacious.
It started promptly on Dec. 21, the first day of winter. I was enormously pregnant, but unaware that I was three days from actually giving birth. My mom was sick – so sick she broke down and went to the doctor the next day. We spent Saturday the 22nd at my godmother’s house making merry and baking Christmas cookies. Then shortly before midnight, my two-year-old woke from sleep crying hysterically with her first-ever bout of croup. And croup, as I’m sure many of you know, is terrifying. We managed to get the situation under control, and by morning it was just your average terrible winter cold. Which she happily shared with all of us.
My husband was sick, I was sick, she was sick, my mom was sickest of all. It was bad.
By the night of Dec. 23, the toddler’s cold had moved into the sleep-depriving cough stage, so around midnight I gave her a dose of honey with lemon and tucked her into bed with me. My husband moved to her bed.
Then at 3 a.m., I woke up with contractions. On three hours of sleep. With a cold. More than two weeks before my due date. On Christmas Eve.
We had planned to have my mom come stay with our daughter while we went to the hospital, and if she couldn’t come we’d call my aunt, and if she couldn’t come our good friends up the street would keep her. But it was Christmas Eve. The friends were out of town, my aunt was at her sister’s house and my mom was sick and had to work. So obviously I could not have a baby.
But you don’t really get to negotiate these things, so my mom came through for us anyway – called off work (shout out to Brad for covering for her) and tried to pretend she wasn’t sick – to keep the kiddo AND cook Christmas dinner with my mother-in-law, who arrived with the rest of my husband’s family that afternoon.
Baby arrived at 12:46 p.m. in a maternity ward with a skeleton staff for the holiday. No one was available to bring her to me from the nursery that evening, so I walked my six-hours-postpartum body down there and got her myself. That was an indicator of how things would be from then on.
When we got home (to a full house in full Christmas mode, a pile of unopened gifts and a traumatized two-year-old on Christmas day), I was certain, absolutely certain, that the baby was going to get sick. Everyone around her, including her food source, was sick. I slept even less than usual in a newborn period listening for signs of congestion. She was doomed, I thought. But miraculously she stayed healthy.
For a month.
When she was 32 days old, she was admitted to the hospital with RSV. It was the exact same bug we all had at Christmas. It made the preschool rounds and came to live with us again. Same croupy cough to kick it off in the two-year-old, same bad cold symptoms in the rest of us, and this time the baby caught it.
I took her to the ER in the middle of a squall on Jan. 25 with respiratory distress. We spent three nights in the hospital. In hindsight, she wasn’t that sick; she was just so little. They snaked catheters down her nose and into her throat to suck out the mucus. They taped a nasal cannula to her delicate skin to keep her oxygen saturation up. A respiratory therapist stood over her with a nebulizer full of albuterol a couple times, thought she admitted it probably didn’t do much good since our little girl didn’t have bronchitis or pneumonia – thank God. The worst part was the IV, but that was also the best part. She stopped nursing almost as soon as we got there, so the IV fluids were essential.
Meantime, the poor toddler was home with Grammy again and so stressed out she started picking at her fingernails nervously. That hasn’t stopped, but she’s mostly adjusted to the chaos now.
It took a week or 10 days after we were discharged for the baby’s cough and congestion to really go away, and then we enjoyed a month of blissful health.
Not that I was totally blissful – I lived in fear of norovirus and flu. And sure enough, two weeks ago some kind of virus found us. The toddler and my dad went down the same day, but with dramatically different outcomes. My dad missed a week of work with a fever and still isn’t fully recovered. The toddler, on the other hand, had a low-grade fever for four days followed by a mild bout of the runs.
Then I got it. I was on the couch for four days, and there was nothing mild about it. It was the Christmas nightmare all over again – everyone except my husband and the baby were sick. I sent them to the pediatrician anyway on the off chance it was influenza and they could start giving her Tamiflu to head it off. It wasn’t, and she has apparently escaped unscathed.
I thought if we could make it to the first day of spring we would have survived. But on the first day of spring I had a Facebook notification from my friend, Leatha, whose daughter is my daughter’s best friend at preschool. After the two girls played all morning Tuesday, her daughter woke up with croup Tuesday night.
Am I panicking? Absolutely. She shows no signs of sickness yet, but it could still be incubating. I’ve kept her home the rest of the week, and I’m trying to keep the girls separated as much as possible. I’m stocking up on saline drops. I don’t know what else to do. I think I have post-traumatic stress. Or intra-traumatic stress, since I’m not sure we’re out of it yet.
So, friends, learn from my mistake. Yes, being hugely pregnant until August with my first was extremely uncomfortable, but she wasn’t born in the middle of cold and flu season. When I told our pediatrician my due date almost a year ago, the first thing he said was, “right in the middle of RSV season.” He is wise. I should have consulted him when we planned the second baby.
If you’re planning a pregnancy, I recommend April or May for birthing babies. I emphatically do not recommend Christmas.