The first time I held Norah was during one of my late nights at the hospital. The nurse was giving her a sponge bath, and she asked if I wanted to lift Norah up so she could place a new liner beneath her. It only lasted a few moments, but there was something about feeling the soft warmth of her body, her lungs filling with air, that gave me hope.
I called Mel that night.
“I got to hold Norah,” I said. “Just for a moment.”
I thought Mel would be happy about it, but she wasn’t.
“I want to hold her. I want to. Not you. Me. I hate it here. I hate it so much. I want to be there with her. Why can’t you be stuck here?”
She went into a crazy rant of questions and frustration. I tried to calm her down, but it didn’t work.
The next morning Mel fought with the doctors until they released her. I picked Mel up around noon, and then we drove straight to the other hospital to be with Norah. Mel stood over the crib, her legs still a little shaky, her left hand gripping a side table, her left holding Norah’s hand. Norah was still heavily sedated. She lay lifeless, her eyes closed, legs spread to the sides, arms limp. I came up behind Mel, put my arm around her, half for support, half for comfort.
“The doctor says she will be okay,” I said.
Mel bit her lower lip, and nodded.
Norah’s recovery seemed more positive after a week in the NICU. We were abel to hold her, and our French doctor assured us that we would be able to make the move to Minnesota.
The next several days were a crazy mix of hospital visits, packing boxes, making arrangements, and trying to figure out how we would pay for Norah’s medical bills. I can’t recall the exact equation, but I remember that our insurance wasn’t great. We had a large maternity deductible, which we were ready to pay, but once that was satisfied, the insurance didn’t pay 100% of the bills. After the first week, we anticipated the medical bills to be around $30,000. Thinking back, this was a very modest estimate. We stopped counting the bills at $90,000. It’s madness that this is what it cost for me to keep my baby daughter alive. I don’t want this essay to be a statement on the American medical system. That is not my intention. I’m also not proposing a solution, because I don’t have one. But what I will say is that going through this experience showed me that there is something very wrong with the American medical system when it costs this much to keep a child alive.
I spent a good amount of time working with the hospital, filling out paperwork, and collecting proof of my pitiful income waiting tables, justifying what little money I had in the bank, showing that I had little to no assets, in an attempt to get on government insurance. I honestly didn’t like the idea, and had the birth been without complications, Mel and I would’ve been able to manage the bills. But as the numbers kept rising, I realized that if I didn’t get some sort of assistance, there was no way we'd ever pay off the debt, let alone make it to graduate school. After a lot of meetings, and fighting, and phone calls, we ended up qualifying for government assisted medical care by being $300 below their benchmark for needed assistance.
Two days before Norah’s release form the hospital, the doctors removed her breathing tube. They took her off sedation, and with in a few hours, she cried for the first time. I’d never been so happy to hear a baby cry. It was loud, and strong, and healthy.
The day before we were able to take her home, Mel, Norah, and myself spent the night together at the hospital. Norah was still receiving oxygen through a small plastic tube in her nose, but other than that, she seemed fine.
Nearly two weeks after Norah was born, we finally took her home… along with a large heavy alarm in a black bag that told us if she stopped breathing, and a large steel air tank that came with a wheeled cart, and pages of instructions.
We brought Norah home to a packed house with boxes and a doting little brother. We discussed the move to Minnesota a lot. We thought that it might be best for Mel to stay with her mother until Norah was off the oxygen, and I’d go off without her. The thought of this scared the hell out of me. I didn’t know how I would make the move without Mel at my side.
The day before we were to pull out, Mel brought Norah to the doctor, and he took her off oxygen, and the alarm, and told us that she’d made a full recovery one week earlier than expected.
The night before we left was a long one. Norah cried most of the night. And although I was exhausted the next day, I was grateful to hear her cry.
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Clint Edwards was blessed with a charming and spitfire wife, a video game obsessed little boy, and a snarky little girl in a Cinderella play dress. When Clint was 9-years-old his father left. With no example of fatherhood, he had to learn how to be a father and husband through trial and error. His essays on parenting and marriage have been featured in New York Times, The Washington Post, The Huffington Post, Scary Mommy, The Good Men Project, and elsewhere. He lives in Oregon. Follow him on Facebook and Twitter.
Photo by Lucinda Higley