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Since my 4lb 10oz bundle of screaming joy was eight weeks early, he was transferred from my body to a team of doctors and nurses there to assess him and make sure he was alright. After their original assessment, which was much better then expected I was able to hold my little man for 30 seconds (for real, a nurse timed it), and then they whisked him off to the NICU. Charlie's home for the next 3.5 weeks.
Minutes after Charlie was born a nurse stuck her head in my room door and said "Sara is here," and my sister in law (giddy from meeting her new nephew) said "send her in!" with a dramatic wave of her arm. I am still in stirrups, and with my pain and panic gone, my brain has returned, so I answer "No! Seriously! She does not want to see this!" The big show was over, but I still had work to do. Ew.
A nurse came in and told us that Charlie was ready for visitors, but only two at a time and one person always had to be a parent. I was still indisposed, and so Nick, so full of energy asked if he could go see the baby. I said of course, and take my mom to meet her newest grandson. Then Allie visited, then Sara. I was still in recovery, missing and wanting my boy.
After the Ew, I sent Allie to get Sara from the waiting room. My best friend came in with a smile and trashy magazines. I was so good to see her face, then I noticed the insane lightening through the window. Crazy rain, lightening and hail outside. Apparently, it had been going on for a while. Wrigley Field had been evacuated, dangerous wind and lightening was wreaking havoc all over the city.
Finally, finally! I can go see my boy. Every new mother is flooded with emotion upon meeting her new bundle, and I am no exception. There he was. A shock of black curly hair, pursed lips, and tiny fists. Hooked up to what seemed like 10,000 tubes and wires. My heart exploded. I can't even begin to describe the mental and physical things that my brain, heart and soul went through in the first 3 seconds of seeing him there.
My Charlie looked so helpless. So small, so precious, so perfect. I sat in my wheelchair looking at him first, the I reached in to his incubator touch him and I burst in to tears. Without my realizing it, a NICU nurse has appeared and asked if I wanted to hold him. I didn't realize that I had that option, he was so wired up. So I held him for as long as I was allowed, but he needed to be back under his lamps, and I needed some rest.
As Nick wheeled me out, we stopped so he could dump off his hospital gown (for those out there unfamiliar with NICU, you need to stop and wash your hands and put a clean hospital gown over your clothes to keep germs out), and he untied mine and started stripping me in my wheel chair because he didn't realize that my hospital gown was actually my entire outfit. I shrieked "What are you doing?" grabbing the front of the hospital gown before I was nude in front of unsuspecting strangers for the second time in less then three hours. Nick looked down and saw my bare back and realized what he was doing, and started tying my gown back in place. We looked at each other both got the giggles. It was the first time we laughed together since we had the terrifying news that my water had broken. I think it was the most satisfying giggle I have ever had.
Welcome to the hood. Parenthood.
I, of course, was in a hospital bed, and Nick was in the recliner thing next to me (they laid totally flat, like a really skinny twin bed....with side rails), and all through the night I kept waking up and whispering "Nick, we are parents" or "Nick, we have a baby" or "Nick, we have a son" and every time he smiled and whispered back "I know." When I finally managed to fall into a deep sleep, my dreaminess was interrupted at about 7am with a representative from the State of Illinois family services standing over me.
I was wiping the sand out of my eyes when she started asking what I felt to be really invasive questions. Especially for 7am. (Of course, as I remember it)
FS: Do you use recreational drugs?
FS: Did you drink during your pregnancy?
M: Um, an occasional glass of wine I guess?
FS: Do you smoke cigarettes?
FS: Do you know who the father is?
FS: Is he involved?
M: (pointing, to the tiny bed) That's him snoring right there.
FS: Educational level? Did either of you graduate high school?
M: What? Um, he's a lawyer and I have a masters degree in secondary education. So, yes, we both graduated high school.
FS: The State of Illinois requires that a home visit be made to all homes of premature babies before 12 weeks of age to assure the baby's safety, is that ok?
M: (I actually laugh, I am to a point that I no longer care for this woman, or the reason for her visit) It doesn't really seem like I have a choice, so sure. Come whenever, but it will be a waste of your time and resources.
FS: (as she turned on her heel, with a wave over her shoulder) Expect to hear from us!
I was disturbed by this exchange, but at that moment in time I was far too exhausted to spend whatever brain cells that were currently functioning to worry about that encounter.
I had just fallen back to sleep, I got another visit. This one by a partner in my OB/Gyn's office. It was the doctor I had spoken with the previous morning, but by the time I arrived into the OB Triage another doctor was on call. This man was an incredibly handsome doctor, doing the rounds for his group. When I realized that there was another person in the room, and a handsome one at that, I shot up into a seated position (not recommended 12 hours after having a baby) and blurted out a very horny housewife sounding, "Oooooooohhhhhhh, hhhhheeeeelllllllllllooooo!"
I know, gross right? He was noticeably embarrassed, I was embarrassed because I heard how creepy I sounded. Not to mention that my adoring husband is sleeping one foot behind me, and can we revisit the fact that my premature son is only 12 hours old. Ick. More then three years later, thinking about that interaction still makes me feel embarrassed. Embarrassed to the point that I have absolutely no clue what the conversation was about. I only remember the first three seconds, everything else is a giant blur.
Now completely skivved out, I didn't even attempt to try and go back to sleep. I got up, showered, and muscled my man awake. While eating my awesome diabetic hospital breakfast, I told Nick about my already full morning. He was less offended by the state visit then I was, and thought my creepy porn exchange with the handsome doctor was totally hilarious.
After Nick showered we went and spent the morning with our guy until the onslaught of family and friends started to arrive to meet the newest member of our world. The news was good, our Charlie was much much healthier then it was expected he would be. He was breathing on his own and not on a ventilator as was expected. He had jaundice, but that isn't uncommon in even a full term newborn. The only thing that would keep him in the hospital was that his suck, swallow, breathe reflex had not developed yet.
The suck, swallow, breathe reflex is typically the last to develop around 35-36 weeks. Since my breast milk had not yet arrived, the first meal I gave my son was a bottle with 2ml of formula. Think about that for a second, 2 ml. That's less then a 1/2 teaspoon. Minutes after my daughter was born, my husband gave my daughter a 2 oz bottle that she greedily accepted and finished within minutes. Charlie's 2 ml took him at least 20 minutes and he kept falling asleep while he was eating. If he couldn't make through a whole feeding he had a tube in his nose that ended in his stomach that they would shoot the food down. Before his next feeding, they also would suck out what was existing in his stomach to make sure he was digesting normally.
As a paranoid new mother, I started freaking out about him not eating. Plus, we were told that before Charlie can come home he has to drink 2 oz in 20 min consistently for 48 hours. In my eyes at the time, it seemed like an enormous uphill battle. I felt scared, overwhelmed and unbelievably helpless so I started to cry. Recognizing my defeat, an older NICU nurse came over to me and squatted down in front of me (chairs were sparse commodities in the NICU),
N: Mom, have you ever run a marathon?
M: (totally confused) Um....no
N: Do you think that you could run one tomorrow?
M: (still confused and getting annoyed - I have an extremely short fuse when tired, it's a terrible trait) Obviously not.
N: If you started training, do you think you could eventually run a marathon?
M: (I'm ashamed to say that my tone was 100% bitch) Yea, I guess so, but really, why are you asking me this? I want my son to eat, and I just had a baby, I can't start exercising.
N: (smiling sweetly) Because mom, eating is Charlie's marathon. Remembering to do three things at once is exhausting for him, he will get there, you just need to be patient. It's not easy, but you look strong mom, you can do it.
M: (through tears) Thank you.
The nurse just smiled, patted my knee softly and went on with her day.
That evening, I was in my room with my mom and Nick and my OB came into the room, she was out of town when Charlie was born and hadn't heard about it until she got back. She had already been to the NICU to see Charlie and get the low down on his health, and was impressed with how well he was doing. She sat on the end of my bed and said "I am just thrilled that he looks so great and is on reumare!"
Dr B: Reumare?
Dr B: (looking at me like I am insane) Um, yes. Reumare.
N: Sandee, for Christ sake! It's two words! Room Air! Room Air! Charlie is breathing the AIR of the ROOM!
M: Oooooohhhhhhh! ROOM air!
N: Did you think she was talking about some fancy French drug?
S: (looking down, embarrassed, but also laughing at my stupidity) Yes.
I was ecstatic that my son was on "Reumare."
Time to go:
Being released from the hospital after the birth of a baby, without the baby is heartbreaking. The day I left was so anti-climactic. We went home and I had a veggie sub that my sister-in-law picked up. At that time, it seemed like forever until I could hold a cordless baby, much less have him come home to stay.
Charlie ended up being in the hospital for three and a half weeks. Far less then it was originally predicted he would be. That said, for Nick and I, those three and a half weeks were the longest weeks of our lives. I spent on average 8-10 hours per day at Charlie's bedside, and Nick went to see him either before or after work everyday. One night, we had a mutual breakdown and stormed the NICU at 2am just to hold him.
One morning, after a bad night of sleep, I had a pity party for myself and my Charlie. Nick, being ever wise, sat me down and said that "Charlie may have had a rough beginning, but he is so much luckier then most kids in the world. Despite being early, he is healthy, he has parents and family that adore him and once he is released from the hospital he will have so many opportunities available to him." Those words got me through the rest of Charlie's hospital stay, I wasn't thrilled with it, but I knew Nick was exactly right. He also added, that by the time Charlie turned one, his stay in the NICU would be a distant memory. And you know what? It was.
P.S. The State of Illinois never ended up making that home visit. I'm not sure if it was the time I spent at the hospital (the nurses documented all the parents comings and goings, and whether or not we interacted with Charlie), or if the mean lady was talking out of school. What I do know, is that when the state called the house after Charlie was released, I was given a choice as to whether or not I wanted them to come. I said I didn't think it was necessary, and that was the last I heard from them.
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