Constable: New baby smell brings happiness this grim January
The grief we might feel at the demise of David Bowie, Alan Rickman or Glenn Frey serves as an appetizer for the heartache inflicted by the deaths of loved ones, co-workers and Facebook friends. The online world features daily doses of grim news, with reports about friends' dire health woes and sad situations. On a lesser magnitude, we are coping with below-zero wind chills, cars that won't start, frozen pipes, historic stock market losses, the realization that we didn't even come close to winning Powerball, nagging coughs, runny noses and a seemingly never-ending onslaught of racist comments, even on Martin Luther King Jr. Day.
If you readers don't need a break from all of that, this columnist does. So I head out on a frigid Monday to a place at Northwest Community Hospital in Arlington Heights where happiness intrudes on all that negativity.
"This," says registered nurse Julie Welsh, as she looks through the nursery window to see a blissful newborn stretch his little left fist into the air as he yawns, "is a great place to work."
For the past 16 of her 27 years as a nurse, Welsh has been immersed in the daily miracles of the mother-baby unit.
"It's the Fountain of Youth," Welsh, 53, says of the "little baby smell" that she can inhale whenever the need hits her. "It brightens your day."
Even though her day starts at 4 a.m., when she leaves her home and husband, Tim, in Oswego for a 12-hour shift at the hospital, Walsh finds comfort in her work -- soothing a crying newborn, cuddling a tiny baby, feeling that soft new skin against her cheek.
"It just sort of rejuvenates your spirit," says Walsh, who grew up in Mount Prospect, was born at Northwest Community Hospital and gave birth in that hospital to her daughters Katie, 27, and Nicole, 23.
Although she now lives in Chicago, Mount Prospect native Dimitra Labbe, 33, chose to begin her motherhood at the hospital in Arlington Heights. A health and P.E. teacher at Stevenson High School, Labbe taught yoga to her students on Friday and went into labor on Saturday morning.
"My baby shower was scheduled at 2 o'clock on Saturday afternoon and she was born at 1:27 p.m., so she crashed her own baby shower," Labbe says as she gently keeps a pacifier in place for her daughter, Sofia. "We took a picture of her next to her cake reading, 'Baby Labbe Coming Soon.'"
The couple didn't know the gender, wanting that to be a surprise. Showing up a few weeks early was a bigger surprise, says new dad James Labbe, a Chicago police officer who's thankful that he could schedule time off to be with his daughter and wife.
"I felt like I left the hospital as a new person," says the 36-year-old new father.
In spite of the sleep deprivation and emotional roller coaster of becoming parents, the Labbes smile as they watch over their 5-pound, 3-ounce bundle of joy.
"We're feeding off each other's energy," Dimitra Labbe says. "It's such a beautiful thing. I'm a mom now."
Named after Dimitra Labbe's grandmother, Sofia also makes that instant connection with her dad's side of the family.
"She's got red hair, like my mom," James Labbe says.
The Northwest Community Hospital sound system plays Johannes Brahms' "Weigenlied Op. 49 No. 4," better known as "Brahms' Lullaby," whenever another baby is born.
"We still try to do one baby at a time," says Don Houchins, a registered nurse who serves as executive director of the hospital's women's and children's services. About 2,800 babies are born each year at the hospital. Each birth has the power to shut off everything else going on in the world.
"Just let them have a moment, settle in and be a family," Houchins says.
And reap those benefits of that new baby smell.