Elia’s Birth Story


So when we had Curie, we stopped not-trying to have a baby for a year before we were pregnant, we didn’t stress about it, we just waited for things to happen naturally. We did the same for Elia, and within two months we were pregnant again.

Now, after our scare with Curie, we knew much more what to expect this time, and having been taken under his wing by Dr. Armstrong, we went back to him for his care. It is lucky we did.

We knew we were going to likely have similar things happen with Elia, The echogenic foci, the smaller birth weight, and some time in NICU perhaps, and while it did turn out that way, it was still a completely different experience.

During one of the doctor’s visits, Albert was reading one of the magazines and noticed an article on cell free screening for women over 35 that takes the baby’s cells from a blood sample from the mother and checks the baby’s DNA that way for genetic issues. Even though Erin was well under 35, we asked Dr. Armstrong about it. He said that it was not approved for women under 35 but still possible, it is just that insurance would not cover it and it could cost “a lot of money.” After our stress with Curie, we thought how much is “a lot?” $5000? $10,000? For Albert it was “what price for peace of mind?” So when he said “$500” Albert laughed at him (yes “at”) and actually said “do you want that in cash now?” So we did the test, it came back negative along with the quad screen. We ended up missing another screening because of some travel, but the peace of mind from the cell free test let us let that go. When the echogenic foci came back up, we didn’t worry. Totally worth the $500, right? Not long after Elia was born, cell free was approved for younger women,.

Because of Curie’s low birth weight and sudden drop in amniotic fluid right before birth, we went to Dr. McClaren a lot more for additional high resolution sonograms. These were very stressful from some post-traumatic stress from the last time. In the middle of the pregnancy Erin fell and we had to do a non-stress test to see if the baby was all right. Toward the end there were a lot of non-stress tests and size checking.

Elia’s size followed Curie’s and we suspect that we would have had the same problems with amniotic fluid decrease. Medically it is called inter-uterine growth retardation, (IUGR), meaning the baby is not growing as fast as they would like. We suspect that since Erin and Julie were so small when they were born, that it runs in the family (leading Albert to worry about Julie a lot). In any case we had an expected date of late January, but we knew it would be earlier. The race was on for 37 weeks, full term, like Curie. Dr. Armstrong put Erin on full bed rest in late-October or early-November to try to conserve energy and help the baby grow faster. He said that there wasn’t a lot of science behind it, but the idea was to give the baby every chance it could have. So Albert started doing everything for Erin, and Erin couldn’t help herself and tried to work from bed. It was exhausting for both of us, but it also allowed us to bond with Curie in different ways than we would normally have we think.

In late-November or early-December, we started talking about options. 37 weeks would have put us around January 3rd, but Dr. Armstrong was saying it was looking more like just after Christmas and we should think about having the baby then. We talked at length about giving the baby every chance it had to grow. Albert was particularly concerned about giving it a chance to grow (as with Curie we had not named the baby yet, even though we had picked the name out already). In the midst of this, we bonded with Dr. Armstrong, going so far as to have Albert call him out on a day where he looked out of sorts, he was surprised Albert picked up on it and told us about a woman who he discovered had cancer during a routine operation and without consent could not perform the hysterectomy when they could not find the husband. We need to reconnect with Dr. Armstrong.

Two weeks before Elia was born, Dr. Armstrong was saying more like December 21st or so, so Erin was given a steroid shot to more quickly mature the baby’s lungs in anticipation for premature birth. Then after the weekend, he called us in and said that he had a change of heart. Over the weekend he was thinking and after conferring with Dr. McClaren, agreed that we should have the child early, at 35 weeks. The rationale was this: Baby is still healthy, Mommy is still healthy, why not do this BEFORE the amniotic fluid drops and the placenta calcifies. Curie was wrinkled and fighting when she was born, why not give birth while everything was good and give the baby a fighting chance in NICU? While not in our birth plan from the week before, we had already decided to trust Dr. Armstrong’s judgement long before this time. Albert asked, could we wait until the 20th so that they could have the same birthday? But Dr. Armstrong was in hospital on the 19th, and since we wanted him to perform the operation, we scheduled the c-section for 8:00 AM on the day before Albert’s birthday, thus insuring that his birthday would be overshadowed by the new baby (he is okay with that by the way).

This time there was no rushing, Erin’s parent’s came down, we packed our bag properly this time, we didn’t do childbirth classes though. We had such a good experience with Curie, with the serenity of the alone time together, but with a two-year old in the mix it was different.

Elia Chen (Albert was estranged from his father at this point so Elia did not yet have a middle name. It wasn’t until a slight thaw the following Thanksgiving that Elia got her middle name, Huang Zhu, empress of bamboo) was born on schedule at 8:00 AM, December 19th, 2013, and while Albert was skeptical, Dr. Armstrong was right. Elia was ruddy and round, albeit, small at 4 pounds 8 ounces, one ounce heavier than Curie at two weeks younger.

She cried when she came out, which was a good sign, and this time Erin got to hold her. We held our breath just as we did for Curie praying for everything to be okay. Once we took our pictures, they whisked her off to NICU. We said it after Curie, you don’t want to have to go to NICU, but if you do, you will be well cared for.

With Curie the four days of NICU were interminable and stressful, with Elia we knew what we were in for to some degree, so when they told us she needed help breathing and eating on top of regulating body temperature and jaundice, we were okay with that. We cried when they wanted to put a feeding tube in Curie, but with Elia, that was the necessary course. Little did we know we would be there for 18 days.

Albert’s birthday the next day was a tad traumatic with him wanting to see Curie in his birthday before she went to sleep. He did not leave Erin’s

Our post-op experience with Erin was very, very good in the labor and delivery wing on the floor when Curie was born, but when Elia was born, they were full and they had to open a new wing for Erin and staff it as they could. In fact, Erin waited in post-op for more than an hour while they opened the wing. It was funny because Albert hadn’t seen Erin at post-op with Curie as he had gone down to NICU with her. This time he saw Erin on anesthesia looking drunk. We have a picture.

We were the only people in that new wing for a while and attention at first was, lets say spotty at best. At first, the nurses were from different places since they didn’t know they were going to staff our wing yet. The head nurse and Asian woman was very good, but couldn’t be there all the time. The silver lining was that we were on the same floor as the NICU this time. At one point a slavic-accented nurse helped Erin into the bathroom and then forgot about her. The next day we met Emma Lawler, who was like an angel, and she took care of Erin with gentle care and kindness to the point that we bonded with her and shared pictures and stories. She probably does that with everyone, but it is the first nurse we have ever become friends with after.

Only children over the age of 12 are allowed into NICU so Curie couldn’t meet Elia yet. Our NICU nurses were incredible, particularly a woman named Ray who was not only reassuring but really took care of Elia. In 18 days, we would visit every day, with Erin’s parents taking care of Curie in the cafeteria. We would take turns with Elia and Curie, and could not spend the nights in the hospital with Elia as we might have. The NICU nurses took care of Elia when we couldn’t and she grew and got better. Christmas came and past and Albert bought Elia a little Winnie-the-Pooh to hang on her incubator to give her a little present while the three of us spent her first Christmas together. The same day, at Candace’s suggestion, Curie picked out a present to give to Elia when she saw her for the first time, a Curious George. And because Curie was a toddler herself, we bought a second one for Curie.

Days passed and the the New Year and Elia slowly grew stronger. It was hard to go back and forth to NICU and the month that Erin’s mother had taken were eaten away. Elia could breathe on her own, and then could eat on her own, but she needed to either get to 5 pounds or drink two bottles by herself before she could go, so we waited. Elia was moved out of NICU to her own room as she grew. Curie was particularly wonderful and waited for her little sister to come home.

Then one day, we came in and they said it was time. We went out to the cafeteria and told Curie. The picture of her with both fists in the air was her reaction. On January 6, 2014, we brought Elia to the Virginia Hospital Center cafeteria to meet her big sister. Curie was so excited. She gave Elia her present and then would not let the car seat go and insisted on helping carry Elia to the car. And then all at once, we were whole, we were a family at last.

Elia is named after Gertrude Elion a Nobel Prize winning biochemist in the field of medicine who helped create drugs to combat organ transplant rejection, and drugs to help HIV-positive people survive and live productive lives.

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