“Malia Mei: A Courageous Birth” is a memoir by Michael Moline, a college instructor, loving husband and devoted father, that includes his recollection of the joy, fear, and hardships leading up to and following the unexpected premature birth of his daughter. Jelly Bean Journals is honored to share their story in this multi-part, bi-weekly series.
MALIA MEI: A Courageous Birth
by Michael Moline
Before work Monday morning:
Sunday night, I got Ariah to bed shortly after we got home. I then put a good amount of our travel items put away but kept the extra clothes in the suitcase. My plan was to get reorganized Monday evening. I figured it would be a bit easier this time around because my emergency bag would actually be the same as my non-emergency bag. Regardless, Ariah and I would stay the following week in Denver because it would be spring break and, if all went well, Cherry would be induced the next Sunday night with baby likely then born on Monday.
We got up Monday morning without much issue and it was back to business as usual. I got myself ready, then got Ariah dressed and fed. I was just getting my coffee going when Cherry called.
When Ariah was born three years prior, Cherry’s back started hurting as she started going into labor. I had never heard of that happening, but since she could not move without a lot of support from me, we figured it was time to go to the hospital. Sure enough, it was advance labor pains and she was told she had probably been in labor for some time. It didn’t take long that day for her labor to progress to the point when she would start pushing, although the pushing part took a couple hours. I often joke that Ariah’s hair was born 2 hours before she was.
“My back is hurting this morning” Cherry told me on the phone Monday morning as I prepared my coffee. I immediately knew that I would be driving back to Denver that day but I was somehow hoping it could wait. I was scheduled to give a lecture over the foot and ankle in Kinesiology, a topic within my advanced expertise and one my co instructor Theresa (not the same as Cherry’s friend), an occupational therapist would be able to handle, but not with the same expertise as she had with the upper extremity. I hoped to get to work and provide that lecture before being told, “yup, I’m in labor.”
“Have you told the nurses” I asked, not wanting my wife to try to be a hero and suck it up, which I was afraid she might try to do. “No, I will when we are off the phone though.”
Knowing I would inevitably be leaving for Denver soon, I scrambled to repack as many items as I could before leaving for work. I got Ariah all set in the car and we were on our way, a little behind schedule, but we wouldn’t be late.
I made it 3 blocks. As I turned left on McKinley Street, my phone buzzed. Cherry was dilated to a 4. I made a U turn as soon as I could and headed home to “pack.”
Luckily I had kept a number of items packed Sunday night and repacked a few items right after Cherry’s call Monday morning. But I still had quite a lot of packing to do in a short time. I decided immediately that I should not get my hopes up that I would make it to Denver in time to see the birth of my child. So while I rushed the packing process, I did not panic… too much. I mostly threw a bunch of clothes for Ariah and myself into 2 different suitcases, assuming I had everything I needed. It turns out socks are still important to pack… ooops. I also tore the pants I was wearing so I instead wore dirty blue jeans that day. But other than that, it seemed I had everything in order and after about 15 minutes of throwing things together and putting it into the car, Ariah and I were back on our way to Denver, just 12 hours after we got home from there.
Driving back to Denver:
I once heard “the only profession where it takes more work to miss than to attend is teaching.” While I can’t agree wholeheartedly, and it’s probably more applicable to K-12 teaching, I agree that it is a pain in the ass to miss a day as a teacher, let alone a week.
The first hour or more of my trip to Denver consisted of approximately 20 phone calls, including friends, family, and coworkers. And there was no rhyme or reason to my order. I randomly dialed person after person to update them on the situation, ask them to sub for a class, tell them I was missing a meeting, ask permission to be gone, tell them what I needed them to teach and how and when I might have materials for them. And this was just trying to make a preliminary plan. Over the next week, I had to get all this information to my coworkers on time so they could cover for me. And updating friends and family over the next week was a challenge as well. My plan ultimately became: whenever I receive a call or text, I will tell that person the latest and hope word spreads. But I digress. The drive to Denver did go well. I got my phone calls made, my mom agreed to change her flight and come immediately instead of waiting until the next weekend as originally planned, Sophea decided to drive down an hour or 2 behind me so he could be available to watch Ariah and be there for Cherry. Ariah was very well behaved, especially considering she wouldn’t need a nap (she woke up just an hour prior), and traffic was just fine. I decided this was going to be a joyous day and I anticipated at any minute to receive a phone call that my daughter was born.
About 1.5 hours into the drive, somewhere between Wheatland and Chugwater, I saw some flashing emergency vehicle lights ahead. I slowed down a little and noticed it was a police car in the median. As I got closer, I also noticed a small car flipped upside down, seemingly a recent event. My mind raced. Should I stop to help? There is an officer there so more help must be on the way. Is this even recent? The passengers might already be out and on their way. What would I do with Ariah if I stopped and ran over there? I just noticed as I’m passing and would have to slam on my breaks to be anywhere close. It’s too late now. Shoot, was that a test from God to see if I would help someone in need? (Reference the last section of this memoir to understand just how chilling that thought was for me).
Ultimately, I kept on going and minutes later Cherry called. She was dilated to a 9 which implied that she would be having this baby very soon. Being 2.5 hours away and yet to make my necessary stop for gas, there was no way I would make it on time to see out baby born. I was excited once again, believing I would be in Denver shortly and immediately see my newborn daughter. I’m sure those in the car were just fine.
Arriving 15 minutes early:
Luckily, I was able to drive our Highlander on most of these trips to and from Denver, including this one. My Subaru had radio and a cd player available. It was sufficient for long distance driving, but I was typically happier driving the Highlander for long distances because it had the capability to connect to my phone via Bluetooth. This allowed me to listen to my large playlist (several hundred songs playing at random) instead of the CD mixes I had made over the past 15 years. As we approached the hospital, the playlist was on random and song by song (3 or 4), gave me nightmarish thoughts. I can’t recall what any of the songs were, but they all had titles or lyrics that worried me. This was exceptionally true when you, once again, consider the last section of this memoir. I slowed the car down and continued to press the arrow to move along to the next song, finally settling on “First Date” to play as I parked the car. It seemed appropriate and not worrisome.
Ariah and I took the elevators to Cherry’s room, not sure what to expect upon arriving. We entered the room and saw Cherry working on having our baby. I was not sure what to do with Ariah as all she wanted to do was watch. I created 3 priorities in my head: 1) stay out of the way of all medical personnel, 2) keep Ariah from staring at her mother’s crotch, and 3) Be close enough to help Cherry with anything she needs and be there when our baby was born. We settled on a spot near the bathroom door, at a diagonal angle from Cherry, the view mostly blocked by nurses, and mostly out of the way. This did not, however, stop Ariah from talking about how funny it was that mom had no pants on and later continually mentioning how the baby came out of mom’s butt.
I would later learn that the medical staff was trying to stall in order to give me a chance to make it to the delivery on time. They later decided they needed to push the labor as there were signs of the placenta detaching. They also reached a point where they were uncertain about the baby’s respiration quality and pushed even faster. At that point, things moved along quite fast and about 10 to 15 minutes after Ariah and I arrived in the hospital room, the birth happened.
At 12:11 pm on March 7, 2016, Malia Mei Moline was born. I did not know if I should expect a cry or not, seeing as she was 33 weeks and probably did not have fully developed lungs. I heard a few little cries that sounded like whimpers, but definitely not anything close to crying you might expect from a full term baby. I stood by, holding Ariah, staying out of the way as much as I could, but also trying to see my beautiful baby girl, Malia. I also knew Ariah would not be able to see her for several weeks after this moment because anyone under 14 years old would not be allowed in the NICU. Ariah and I kept getting good looks at Malia and also checking on Cherry over the next 10 to 15 minutes. The medical staff working on Malia let me take several pictures and informed me that she was doing well. She was working a little bit harder on her respirations than they would like so they supplied some supplemental oxygen. But that was to be expected. Cherry was able to hold Malia for a minute or two before she was sent off to be admitted to the NICU. The entire process seemed to go very well and I was joyous to have made it on time and give Ariah the chance to meet her sister, if only for a few minutes. I was a father to my second girl, we were already mentally prepared to have a premature, NICU baby, and we therefore felt great. It was time to rest and wait until we were able to go over and see Malia once again.
Come back in two weeks to pick up on the next part of Malia Mei: A Courageous Birth.
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