Holly Grace Everett was born at 4:56 p.m. on October 3rd, 2020, just as the sun began to bend toward the horizon. Before I could wrap my mind around what was happening in that delivery room, she was laid on my chest. I was sobbing, my new baby was sobbing, and surely the doctor was asking Andrew what was up with the waterworks. I locked eyes with Holly, noticing how glossy and big hers were. For a moment, our tears stopped, and we stared at each other.
I so wish I could capture that first feeling in a bottle and save it forever. But, as my mom recently reminded me, I’ve got to write this all down — the highs, the lows, and everything in-between.
Andrew and I spent our summer hanging out with one another. We went on plenty of dinner dates, sipped coffee in the park down the block, drove around to scope out the prettiest homes, watched New Girl on Netflix, and scrubbed our home from baseboards to crown moldings. By September, we were hunkered down at our condo, watching the days go by on the calendar. My due date (September 25th) was coming up quickly, and I suddenly decided I was not ready.
We were, of course, ready by all definitions of the word. We’d read the books, finished the nursery, and ordered her “coming home” outfit for the hospital. But I didn’t feel ready.
“I need more time,” I’d whisper to Andrew. “More time with you.”
Fear began to take hold of me. In September, I cried all the time: on the drive home from Gemini one balmy evening, at our couple’s Bible study during prayer requests, before bed on many nights.
My due date came and went, and I found myself in a serious funk. I spent most of the following week laying in bed, looking at Instagram photos of new moms with their babies and wondering if I would share their experiences. Every baby announcement post said something to the tune of “our lives have forever been changed” and “I’ve never known a love like this” and more way-too-perfect sentences about birth.
I worried about whether I would connect with my daughter right away. I worried about the physical pain of giving birth. I worried about the hospital. I worried about my relationship with my husband changing post-baby. My mid-summer delight was sapped, replaced by negative thoughts.
By 41 weeks, my doctor informed me the safest choice at that point would be to schedule an induction. She was able to fit me in the next day — a Saturday. I completely fell apart, bawling in Andrew’s arms as the reality set in: It was on the calendar. It was happening. There was no turning back now.
We prayed a lot that Friday, and by dinnertime, I started to calm down. We ordered takeout from our favorite Lincoln Park restaurant (Old Pueblo!), triple-checked our duffel bag, and tried to go to sleep early.
On the morning of my induction, I woke up at six. Andrew cooked a big breakfast (eggs, hashbrowns, toast, fruit, coffee) and played MercyMe on our Sonos. The temperature had plunged into the forties, so he lit a fire to cozy up our home.
My stomach was in knots as we pulled into the parking garage at Prentice Women’s Hospital in Streeterville. If I had things my way, I would have gone into labor naturally, spent a few hours at home, and then headed downtown once I was further along. With an induction, you have to drive to the hospital as if you’re off to a birthday party or hair appointment: physically fine, totally alert, and very much aware of what’s about to happen.
Holly’s birth was nothing like I expected. Labor, in general, was nothing like I expected. I had decidedly avoided any prepatory videos, leaving the research portion to Andrew. What’s more, I’d never been a patient before. My hospital experience was limited to a brief stint of candy striping in high school. Everything was new to me, and everything frightened me.
I was induced at 10:30a.m., and at 4:15p.m., my doctor told me it was time to push.
In the end, I pushed with all my might, and the sensations (even with an epidural hooked up to my back) were unbelieviably intense. I vaguely remember the doctor and nurses looking down at me, and Andrew standing by my side. It took about half an hour, and suddenly, Holly arrived.
Those lucid hours after birth are like a dream I can only recall bits and pieces of. We stared at our daughter, marveling at her sweet-smelling skin, her tiny lips, her blue eyes. We FaceTimed our parents (they all erupted in cheers), and waited as the nurse checked on me and Holly.
By the time we got to the recovery room, I was delusional with exhaustion and euphoria. Andrew ordered Portillo’s, and in-between learning how to nurse our new baby, I devoured a hot dog (with all the toppings), crinkle-cut fries, a chopped salad, and a loaf of bread. The food was no longer warm, but it was still a mighty fine meal.
The nurses and staff at Prentice took exceptional care of us that weekend. We planned to stay Saturday until Monday, and my mom would visit us on Sunday. In our little recovery room, it felt as if the rest of the world stopped spinning, and all we knew was the quiet knock-knock-knock at our door of the nurse bringing me my medicine, the giant styrofoam water cups filled with ice-cold water, and tiny Holly, swaddled up in a foot-printed Northwestern blanket. We hardly slept, but it didn’t matter. We were on a high.
On Monday, the day we were scheduled to get discharged, Andrew and I met with Holly’s pediatrician. When she was born, my doctor noticed a small bump on the crown of her head. “Probably nothing,” she said, and so we chose not to worry. Our pediatrician assured us in the same tone, but stated that he’d ordered an ultrasound “to be certain.”
When the ultrasound technician came to whisk Holly away, I paced (slowly, because labor recovery is painful!) back-and-forth in the hallway, peering through the glass nursery window to try to glean what was going on in there. I even chased the tech down when I saw her heading toward the elevator afterwards. “Did it all look okay?” I begged, wide-eyed. She told me she cannot interpret the reports, and we would have to wait for a call from our doctor.
Andrew and I did what we could to distract ourselves for the next hour. We dressed Holly in her “coming home” outfit — a whimsical floral gown with a matching hat I found at Nordstrom. The three of us laid together in my adjustable bed, taking selfies and laughing at the dress swallowing her up.
The phone call came right then, as we were snapping another picture. I could hear bits and pieces of Andrew’s conversation with our pediatrician, but it was enough: Hot, fat tears started rolling down my cheeks as I clutched my baby girl to my chest. Andrew hung up, and I didn’t move.
“No, no, no,” was all I could say.
That Monday night, Holly was taken next door to Lurie Children’s Hospital and admitted to the NICU. We had no idea how long she would be there or what to expect.
I could hardly function and would not stop crying — Andrew, meanwhile, mustered up the strength for all of us. He spoke to the doctors and neurosurgeons calmly, arranged for us to stay in a “sleep room” two floors below Holly’s NICU crib (these are generously sponsored by the Ronald McDonald House), prayed with me and played worship songs on his iPhone, made sure I was eating, set alarms so we would know when it was time to go nurse her, and kept both sets of grandparents informed of what was going on.
I found it impossible to trust God as night turned to early morning — Andrew was trusting Him from that very first terrifying phone call.
It was nearly noon on Tuesday. Andrew sat in the rocking chair in Holly’s room while I took the recliner at the foot of her crib, cradling her in my arms. A well-dressed woman with a prominent Lurie Children’s badge drew back the curtain and introduced herself as the head of neurosurgery. (In stark contract to her, we were a scary sight: bags under our swollen eyes, the same clothes as the day before, greasy hair.)
She got right to the point: Our daughter was going to be okay. Holly was born with a rare birth defect of the neural tube. (Shockingly, the defect occurs in week four of pregnancy!) Through an MRI, the team determined the rest of her brain was normal, and she wouldn’t have any developmental repercussions. There would be surgery, but not for a while. Our daughter was going to be okay.
Andrew and I stood in the hallway afterwards, arms wrapped around each other. It was a quiet moment of thanksgiving before we called our parents, ate lunch, and started the discharge process. I remember thinking that I’ve never felt closer to my strong, compassionate, courageous husband.
Holly’s NICU nurse, Annie, spent the entirety of that afternoon helping me with breastfeeding, stuffing our bags with samples, and sharing all of her baby tips and tricks with us. She was the bright spot we needed, and I am convinced that was all God’s doing. It was all I could do not to hug her on the way out.
Just after six, we opened our front door. Golden evening sunlight filled the living room, and my heart swelled in my chest. Holly was home. She was home!
As I write this, Holly is almost four weeks old. She’s met both sets of grandparents, my brothers, and my best friend (who took these gorgeous photos!). She loves to snooze in her pale pink Dock-A-Tot, she nurses to her little heart’s content (she’s up almost two pounds!), and according to Andrew, she cries like her mom.
On many occasions, I’ve told Andrew how badly I want to stop time. The days go by too quickly, and although there are plenty of trying moments, I am more joyful than I’ve ever been before.
And to think I was so afraid of this part.
So fearful I would not connect with my daughter.
So sure the NICU experience would end differently.
So worried about becoming a mom.
Below is the passage Andrew and I picked out before Holly was born. It’s about the radiant and profound love of God. Our prayer is that Holly comes to know this unimaginable love — and as I read the verse back to myself, I can see it is just as much a reminder for me to trust the One who can “do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine.”
“For this reason I kneel before the Father, from whom his whole family in heaven & on earth derives its name. I pray that out of his glorious riches he may strengthen you with power through his Spirit in your inner being, so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith. & I pray that you, being rooted & established in love, may have power, together with all the saints, to grasp how wide & long & high & deep is the love of Christ, & to know this love that surpasses knowledge — that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God. Now to him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us, to him be glory in the church & in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, for ever & ever! Amen.”
Thank you, Lord, for Holly Grace Everett.