You'll be seven weeks old tomorrow and I've been processing your birth and how I want to talk about it for weeks. This has been such a difficult post to write, and I'm not sure why. I suppose it's because I don't want to come across as sounding too dramatic about the past when you're snug and snoozing in your bassinet next to me. But I don't want to dismiss that time as if nothing happened at all. Such conflict.
You were born on Monday, March 17, 2014. As usual, I had a c-section with you. You were breech, just like your oldest brother, not that I would have had a normal delivery anyway, it just was never meant to be, I guess. There will always be strong feelings surrounding birth for me, but that is not what this is about.
My surgery was long. I had two OB's working on getting you and getting me back together. You didn't cry right away, I noticed that, but then you did and they eventually took you to the nursery with your dad and finished on me. They did sort of lay you across my neck for a few seconds before wrapping you up and taking you away, but after that I don't remember much and I eventually fell asleep, I think. Those first few hours are all very murky.
Right away things just didn't feel "right". We were told you were born with a two vessel umbilical cord. Notable only in that it is unusual, but fortunately you were fine. Thank God we did not know this before hand because I would have probably become hysterical with worry. Sometimes Google just isn't your friend. I will admit, before you were even born, I was tipped off that things might not go as planned. I kept running into all sorts of stories of sick babies, still births, unexpected complications. I don't know why I seemed to be attracting this kind of news, but maybe I was preparing myself for some kind of stress.
When we were brought back together again in recovery, you were very lethargic and not interested in nursing. At this time, we just assumed you were sleepy, it had been a difficult delivery requiring a classical incision on my uterus to pull you out, so high up you were. We didn't really know at the time, but apparently you had inhaled a lot of amniotic fluid.
As the day went on, you were increasingly lethargic. Your hands and feet were blue and your breathing was obviously labored. Finally, your dad and I looked at each other and said that we didn't think things were right and he carried you down to the nursery. Turns out your oxygen levels were in the low 80s. And you were breathing around 150 breaths a minute. Not good.
After that, I didn't get to see you again until just before you taken to the NICU. At this time we had no idea what to expect. Maybe you just needed a little oxygen and you'd be fine? Then they said NICU, which would have been somewhat okay, except that the NICU you would be going to was in Orlando. More than an hour away. At this time, there was a lot of deep misery and weeping. How could this happen to my full term baby?
That night was stormy and they couldn't send the helicoptor so we had to wait for the ambulance. Eventually your dad went home to be with your siblings for the night and your grandmother came to stay over with me. Around midnight the ambulance team brought you in on a gurney outfitted for newborns; a large plastic isolette sat on it. Two men and one woman in blue jump suits pressed themselves silently up against the wall of my hospital room as close to the door as possible and the cheerful NICU nurse from Orlando brought in the super breast pump and told me to have at it. They rolled your isolette over to me and I was able to put my hand through the little round portal to say good bye to you. That part was so surreal. You were covered in wires and sensors and had a nasal canula giving you oxygen. I tried to hold it together as I was surrounded by strangers. Strangers I had to trust with my newborn who would be barreling down I-4 in a storm too dangerous to fly through. Those were the hardest moments of my life. I couldn't go with you.
That night I hardly slept. I was awake buying adorable onesies on Etsy as buying things for you would mean that you would be okay. They said you would be okay, that you just needed help. What was wrong with you? What happened, when would you be okay? No one really had an answer for that. By 3 am, the neonatologist in Orlando called to let me know you had arrived and were settling in to the NICU. You needed oxygen and were being given antibiotics for Sepsis.
At some point I was being helped up to walk. Eventually I lost the catheter, the IV and the oxygen monitor. Yay me! I began to feel like the pariah of the birth floor. The woman with no baby. The things you notice. The remains outside of someone's door of the "celebration dinner". The one I didn't get because my baby was gone and my husband was gone with him and I spent the night alone. The nurses brought me a little teddy bear wrapped up like a newborn. Sweet. But weird. They wanted me gone.
Your dad went early to Orlando to be with you. You were okay, he could hold you! Then you slipped back, and the nasal cannula wasn't enough and you were put on CPAP. You were being fed a bag of nutrients because you couldn't tolerate feeds. Your surfactant in your lungs had dissolved due to the inhalation of amniotic fluid and your heart was mixing your venus and arterial blood. I can't even go there in my head wondering how much longer you would have lived if your dad and I hadn't "figured out" there was something just not right.
Wednesday morning I was released from the hospital. March 19th. Of course as they were wheeling me downstairs to be released, I was right behind another new mom, except she was carrying her new baby. Awkward...Jealous feelings. It was also your brother, Stellan's, birthday. I didn't get to even see him that day. More guilt. We drove directly to the hospital in Orlando. I will not forget how nervous I felt going in to see you for the first time. I was only two days out from surgery, so eventually I tired going from the parking garage to the NICU. The hospital you were at is, in a word, huge. A city complex. Incredible. Your dad found me a wheel chair so I could be wheeled in to see you.
The level three NICU is a large, dark room with isolettes and cribs set much nearer to each other than I would have thought. Other parents loomed over their babies. I noted the other moms like me. Swollen ankles and swollen bellies. Some other obvious c-sections. We didn't really talk to each other. Everyone just looked stressed out, in pain, and worried. But I have to say, the nurses and doctors who were taking care of you were amazing. There were babies there for all sorts of reasons. Cleft pallette, no anus, respiratory distress (you). Too small. Too early. We saw a tiny 23 week baby come in and they put her isolette right next to yours. I will never forget seeing her tiny little legs kicking. Tragic. Amazing.
Our time in Orlando was interesting. We felt guilty being there, away from your brothers and sister. We felt guilty when we drove home to be with them. Leaving you behind was terrible. I had never felt pulled in so many directions before. When we stayed in Orlando, we were lucky to have a room at the Ronald McDonald house. What an AMAZING charity. It was very simple and clean and sweet, right near the hospital. What a gift to parents who have babies and children in the hospital. Say what you will about McDonalds, the RMD House is a wonderful charity.
On Thursday your dad and I went to Target to pick up a few toiletries and things while we were at the RMD House. Funny how it seemed that all of Orlando happened to be at that Target that morning with newborn baby boys. They were everywhere and I was weepy and three days post surgery. I still looked pregnant. My abdomen was too swollen due to the extra trauma of my c-section, so I couldn't even get on my usual post-surgical abdominal binder. As we were checking out the cashier asked me cheerfully when the baby was due. "Um, I had the baby three days ago". She smiled, "Congratulations!". Then, she paused and I felt my face heat up. Please no follow up questions! She looked around, and slowly asked, "Is everything okay"? (Because, why the hell wouldn't a new mother be with her baby?) All I could blurt out as I began crying was, "My baby's sick, he's at the hospital". To which she began crying and the line of shoppers behind us were immediately rendered extremely uncomfortable. I ended up consoling her and telling her you'd be okay. You were going to be okay. You were. You were.
After that awkward experience things sort of mellowed out. Orlando is a pretty fun little city and we enjoyed the fun hipster Cuban restaurants, the antique store/bar at night from which we purchased some new bar stools and a bed, The Ravenous Pig, and, of course, "Wolfie's Pizzaria" right by the hospital. Well, and OF COURSE we went to Ikea. Because, one always needs something from Ikea. Nothing like personal stress to make you go shopping. And when we could finally hold you for longer periods of time, we simply sat in your room (for you were eventually moved to a private room after about five days) and snuggled you.
But for you, all 7 pounds 5 ounces 21 inches - they called you "the big baby" - you improved. Slowly you began to tolerate feedings and were digesting the milk I was bringing you. 36 hours under the Bili Light.
The TPN bag was eventually removed. The unbilical vein line was closed. We could finally hold you for longer than a few minutes and without a thousand cords connected to you. Your heart was pumping blood correctly. Your oxygen needs became less and less. At around 8 days you took a bottle and right after that I was allowed to try to feed you. Such a normal thing. Such a little thing- nursing you. But I was as nervous as I'd ever been. Would you be able to do it? Was this experience going to sabotage our nursing relationship forever? Of course, I cried with relief when you finally latched. And that, that was the first time it felt like I had a baby. I had told your dad that I still felt pregnant - mentally at least. I barely held you the day you were born. I hadn't been able to bond. I didn't see you at all the second day of your life. You were barely real to me. But being able to hold you and feed you was the beginning of our relationship. Seeing your face without a tube going down your throat and finally without the oxygen tube was very momentous to me. You were being unwrapped slowly from the confines of the cords that saved your life and being given to us. Your rebirth.
I know this sounds so disjointed and wonky. It's so hard to talk about something hard that happens to you when there is a happy outcome. It's similar to the feelings surrounding multiple c-sections. I hated having them. I feel a tremendous loss fo something integral to the whole pregnancy and birth experience, but society tells me to shut up because I have healthy children. It wasn't "worse".
I feel similarly about your time in the NICU. We only spent ten days. You didn't need surgery. You're home now. You didn't die. It could have been worse and it is IS worse for SO many people. Sweep those negative experiences away! It's all good now! Right?
We are moving on now. You are in our life and you are so loved and so precious. And yes, I am extremely paranoid about something happening to you. I am extremely paranoid about something happening to one of your siblings. Things seem a little more fragile to me these days and while I move away from the hormonal extremes of the post partum experience (even though I know that takes a while) I'm working hard not to let it overwhelm me. So thanks for reading. :)
And, if you've gotten this far, I wanted to share the story of our friends, our in real life friends whom also have a NICU baby. Except their baby was born at 26 weeks, about three weeks before Wolfie and is still there. He's doing well and getting stronger every day. But, like our family, little baby Carter's family lives near us and the NICU is in Orlando. It's hard my friends. It's hard and it's REALLY expensive. Like, blow your mind expensive. So, if you have the time, check out the wonderful blog his parents have created. And if you have the means, consider donating a little to help them out.