Just a note: I wrote this post over 2 years ago but didn’t really want to read it again until recently. It’s taken me a while to feel batter about this ordeal so I avoided rereading it for a while. Decided I’d like to have it here on my blog for future reference so read if you’d like!
E’s birth was highly anticipated, as all births are. We planned and had a wonderful birth in our bedroom at home. E was born healthy and happy and it never crossed my mind that I would need to worry about the DAYS after his birth. As long as I delivered a healthy baby, he and I would be fine and we’d spend the week with J home from work, loving each other and getting to know our new baby. That was the plan. I was so ready to savor my time with my new family, to enjoy E’s first week of life as I had with C: at home, blissfully happy, baffled and exhausted by a new little person.
E’s start to life was heartbreaking and breathtaking in so many ways. His birth was amazing but the week after was the saddest thing I’VE ever had to endure. In comparison to what other people live through it’s nothing but for me, it was very tough.
So here goes:
Well, the week of E’s birth was pretty much been the most grueling of my life. I had an amazing birth on November 19, Monday morning, at home. It was fast, fierce, beautiful and furious. My little family had a lovely first day of basking in the sunlight streaming in the windows and marveling at our new son. It was everything I hoped E’s birth day would be.
Then after dinner, E spit up, choked, wasn’t able to breathe, and turned purple and blue. We were changing his diaper on our bed upstairs while C watched Netflix beside us when it happened. I picked E up and patted his back, expecting him to just gurgle up the fluid as he had been on and off all day. But this time he didn’t. And I couln’t get him to breath out, he just kept sucking in, more and more and then nothing. J grabbed him and started doing baby Heimlich and I grabbed my phone.
My mind was racing, in this totally logical and calm process. If I called 911 then E would go to the hospital and they’d find a reason for him to stay and we’d be in the NICU for a week. I knew it. I’d read and heard enough stories. But if I called my midwife Lynda, there was nothing she would be able to do to help and we would end up calling 911, wasting precious minutes. I wavered for what seemed like minutes but was only a couple seconds.
I called 911 and by the time the ambulance arrived we’d managed to get E to breathe again and he wasn’t a horrible dark color. He was pinking up as I ran outside to flag the ambulance down our long drive. The paramedics suggested we go to the hospital via ambulance since his lungs sounded funny and he was retracting while he breathed. After talking for a minutes, we strapped him in the ambulance. While J managed our older scared and screaming son, off went E and I to our local hospital. In the back of my mind I was still worried things would get out of hand and they’d want to admit Everett for nothing. The nice paramedic and I talked calmly and remarked on my sweetly sleeping son, who was pink and happy.
Got to the hospital and E was quickly checked out and the worst case scenarios were presented by docs. I was a little annoyed and told them to hold off on doing anything to my baby and that we wanted to talk before deciding anything. They made even THAT sound like an awful idea. Argh. They frustrated me. E’s oxygen levels were pretty low and he was still not breathing right. Obviously something was wrong so we chose a NICU to transport him to. I called our midwife and she gave us a few suggestions and some comfort. A team from the new hospital came to get E, poked and struggled to insert an IV and draw blood for lab cultures. E’s blood this week has clotted very quickly but that night it was awful. Apparently he was a bit dehydrated simply due to being new and getting small amounts of colostrum through nursing. Hearing him scream as they repeatedly worked was the worst thing that entire week brought. They bent back his feet, his wrists, they pressed on his little arms and feet searching and digging with needles for a vein that would give them a blood sample. I stayed by my baby’s side, held his hand, whispered in his ear as he shrieked in pain. I held back punching those damn nurses, held back snatching my perfect child and running, I held back everything. I stayed with him, I told him what was happening, I did the only thing I possibly could which was hold his tiny hand.
Eventually I had to leave the room. And that, THAT was the worst moment of my life. I had to leave my tiny, helpless baby and stand outside his open door, listening to him writhe and scream in pain while people tried to find a vein to draw blood. I hated myself for leaving him but I couldn’t stay. I was in the way, I was making it worse, I was making it take longer. I was breaking inside and so I forced myself to stand back and let them do their job. And they were glad I left, I know, and they quickly worked more efficiently than when I was there. And this horrible cowardly part of me was glad I left too, my uselessness was overwhelming everyone. I felt like the world’s worst mother, because I was letting them hurt my baby.
Sometimes now I still flash back to this awful moment and I shudder and hold back the sobs that instantly insist on bursting forth. I hate that night, I hate that moment. I hate the pain my child had to suffer. I hate that he had to suffer it alone. I look at him now and he is big and healthy and oh so happy. But it doesn’t make that moment go away, nothing will. It’s always with me, hidden, popping up at random times, taunting me with it’s intensity and pain.
Afterward, J and I said our good byes to our little E who was now sleeping from exhaustion. Since we weren’t permitted to ride with him, we had to we had to let the transport team take him to the NICU. It was so wrong, so NOT what my peaceful homebirth was supposed to be. We were abandoning our boy to strangers. They were taking him on his first night outside the womb, not us. They told us they would take 30 minutes to get to the NICU then 30-45 more to check him in before we could see him again. We rushed home to let out the animals and grab clothes since we knew we wouldn’t be this close to home again for a while. My in laws took our older son home with them from the hospital so at least we didn’t have to figure that out.
That whole drive home I didn’t allow myself to think or feel in fear of losing it, for fear of breaking down and screaming. My arms ached with emptiness and my mind was clawing to return to my son, to grab him and run, to heal him with my love. I’ve never felt so hallow and desperate, birthing my baby and LEAVING him with someone else. Not knowing what was going to happen to him. Not being able to protect my child while I drove AWAY from him. It was such a black night.
At home we frantically gathered supplies before dashing off. Finally we got to the NICU around 12:30 Tuesday morning after the longest drive ever (really only 45 minutes). Eventually we saw E after he had been admitted and checked, and he was sleeping exhaustedly. We couldn’t hold him, had to wear gloves to touch him, I couldn’t breastfeed him. I couldn’t even feed my child! I felt so helpless.
By this time it was close to 2 AM. We hadn’t slept Sunday night due to labor and birth and now Monday night was disappearing without us sleeping again. The lack of sleep and the stress was very much catching up with us, especially me. Tests were being run but nothing was really known about E’s condition. Though the docs and nurses were awesome and helpful, it was scary to see our brand new baby hooked up to so many wires and tubes. He was stabilized and we would have to wait for blood cultures and tests to show how bad he was.
So as I said, it was Tuesday morning and we couldn’t do anything, had no place to stay, the nurses weren’t very accommodating and E only had a tiny isolette in a room filled with babies. We drove home around 3 AM to sleep for 2 hours before driving back to be with E. The staff switched to a new group of docs and nurses from 6:45-8 and all visitors and parents were kicked out during that time each morning and night. We managed to get back to the NICU at 6:00 to at least spend some time with E and then we ate breakfast when they made us leave at 6:45.
We found out on Tuesday that E had aspirated fluids, developed pneumonia, was found to have 2 tiny holes in his heart, and an irregular heartbeat. (At a cardiologist visit when he was 2 months, E’s heart holes were confirmed as healed and normal!) The irregular heartbeat was finally categorized as normal for a newborn. The pneumonia would require 7 days of antibiotics and lots of monitoring since it was causing E to have trouble breathing.
The despair of Monday night started to melt into relief with E’s diagnosis by the end of the day Tuesday. Yes, we’d have to stay at the hospital for a week but that was totally manageable. Our boy was sick but would recover. There was nothing life threatening wrong with our son, which was such a relief. So our fears of permanent problems slowly melted by Tuesday night.
You’d think being stuck in a hospital all day would be boring but really there was so much to do and so many people to talk to about E that we were exhausted and busy all day. Later on Tuesday, after dinnertime, they finally let us hold Everett. Oh my, only looking at him all day was frustrating. Holding my boy just made my heart sing and of course I was crying my head off with happiness. So funny to be holding my baby, crying with joy and sadness, marveling at his big 10 pound 13 ounce body finally in my arms again. I just sat in that rocker, cuddling him close, crying and talking to him, healing the hurt in my heart.
It’s kinda ridiculous how often I teared up that week, at happy and sad things. My hormones and the stress of the situation meant that just about anything made me cry!
Tuesday night we stayed at a next door hotel instead of going home. There was still no place to stay in E’s little area in the NICU. So once again, I lay in a bed without my baby, not allowing myself to think about it, not letting the sadness rush in. We slept for 2 hours then J got up and returned to the hospital since we wanted to be there as much as we could. I pumped to keep up my milk supply while J prepared to leave, then slept another 2 hours and joined him at the hospital to see E before rounds began. So now it was Wednesday and I had only slept about 8 hours since I woke Saturday morning. And oh yeah, I birthed a baby too and was trying to recover from that. Small detail!
Wednesday things got a little better since E had been on antibiotics for 24 hours. His oxygen levels improved and though he still wasn’t allowed to breastfeed, he was getting sugar water through his IV as his food. Late that night they agreed to let us try to nurse since he was breathing so much better and it went terribly. Having a pacifier on and off all day really messed up his latch and my milk still hadn’t started gushing. We had a very frustrating 45 minutes of struggle and before giving him pumped milk in a bottle. We drove back to the hotel around midnight, exhausted and depressed. E did though get one tube taken out that was going through his throat to his tummy to prevent him from spitting up. It was nice to see his sweet little lips again.
Didn’t sleep much Wednesday night due to waking to pump every 2 hours and J drove back to the hospital around 2 AM to stay and give E a bottle. I slept a black, deep sleep for my 1.5 hours breaks of sleep between pumping and then we were back to the hospital at 6:00 Thursday morning to nurse before the staff switched and kicked us out. Nursing actually went better and E was able to get some milk from me! Funny thing this morning was J and I were driving around, trying to find someplace to eat breakfast and couldn’t figure out why nothing was open. Oh yeah, it was Thanksgiving Day!
Thanksgiving Thursday was the day everything started to get soooo much better!! E nursed somewhat with a syringe, next time with an SNS, and by the evening he was fine breastfeeding on his own. Also, he got the nasal cannula taken off and did perfectly breathing room air! We were moved to a small private room in the NICU since we needed space for me, his food supply, to stay the night. Yes, my kid was finally nursing! And I was going to stay with him at night!!! I was so happy! The couch and recliner in that room sure weren’t comfortable but dang, it was so nice to be together all day AND night!
We had great Thanksgiving Day with so much to be thankful for! What a happy difference between Monday night. My wonderful bother and sister-in-law brought us food and I think this was the night we saw our older son for the first time since Monday. Of course seeing my big boy made me cry, but I choked it back for C’s sake. It was another bittersweet reminder of all we were missing during what was supposed to be our special time at home, bonding and getting to know our new baby and family.
Thursday night we got 1 hour of sleep before E woke hungry at midnight, then he had to have 2 blood samples drawn, a round of antibiotics, 2 more blood samples. Everett’s blood for some reason clotted incredibly quickly, as evidenced by Monday night’s awfulness, so each blood draw took about 30 minutes. Only a tiny bit of blood was needed but E’s heels were extremely poked from all the repeated attempts to get enough blood. It was so sad and frustrating and E wouldn’t nurse when he was upset so nothing helped him emotionally. By the time all those procedures were done, J and I were hungry and needed to scarf down some food, then E was hungry. We didn’t fall back asleep until 5 AM! The wonderful staff and E let us sleep until nearly 8 that morning and didn’t kick us out for the rounds since we were in our little room.
Friday J spent much of the day taking care of animals at home, doing laundry (I had no clothes out that fit my postpartum body except 2 pairs of maternity sweatpants and 3 shirts), packing clothes and stuff for us at the hospital, and dealing with the chaos we left behind at home. He also slept a few hours since he doesn’t do nearly as well as me on low sleep.
However, even I couldn’t beat the exhaustion. I had two groups of family members visit the hospital at the same time that evening and got to see C again for just a bit. I wanted to ignore everyone else there and play with him entirely but I couldn’t. Walked MIL and SIL back to look at E, returned to the lobby to see C a few minutes, walked FIL and sister back to E, returned to hug C, walked sister and sister back and found E crying so hard his head was sweating. Heartbreaking! Calmed him, left him in sister’s care and walked back to say good bye to C and then brought my mother back.
That was the most relaxing part of the day: my sister and mother sat with E and I and we chatted for about 30 minutes. Then the nurse came in and found that E had blown his IV line again. All my remaining family left and I focused on E who happily didn’t have a terrible time with the IV. J let me know he would be returning around midnight and before I went to bed, I texted him to stay home and sleep until morning. I was pretty sure I could handle things though I was very tired. You know, just that “I birthed a baby 5 days ago and have slept less than 4 hours each day since then” kind of tired. 😉
E awoke, sometime after 10 pm and after I picked him up, I sat down and was overwhelmed by a wave of trembling and extreme cold. I was worried I might faint over on top of my nursing baby but instead I grabbed a blanket, pulled it around me, and huddled over E with my teeth chattering and my body wracked with shaking. It passed after about 10 minutes but dang, I needed my hubby there and let him know.
So there I was on Friday night: E was recovering grandly, relearning nursing at a quick pace but his parents were exhausted, and we were all stuck in the NICU until Monday afternoon. I’d seen my older son every other day and only for a short amount of time each visit. I missed his sweet face so much. So again, I fell asleep and drowned out the sadness so I wouldn’t have to think about it.
J returned and we managed to get through another tough night filled with numerous procedures and a hungry baby. J made sure we rested and I ate plenty the next day. We slept more on Saturday than we had any other day. Basically it was: sleep, nurse, change and settle E, leave so we could eat and use the restroom, go back and nurse, change, and settle E, sleep, eat, repeat. Did I mention parents had to LEAVE the unit to eat anything or use the restroom? Also, we had to escort our guests wherever they went. Not very convenient. Our doula came to visit around 4:30 and stayed a while to chat. She’s so comforting to talk to.
Another crazy night of struggling to sleep amidst many babies crying and their alarms beeping and E needing to nurse and his alarms beeping. Our “comfortable” recliner and tiny couch also weren’t making it easy to rest! We made it through though and started our second to last day: Sunday. Honestly don’t remember much about that day other than J had to go home to feed the chickens and our nurse started discharge stuff with us. Another friend brought us some bread and another brought us yummy Thanksgiving leftovers.
Sunday night was another tough night but I thought I could handle it easily. Then E needed another IV placed (his 5th or 6th?) and it was a hard one to do. He cried so much when the old IV tape was removed, cried when the IV was placed, took a bottle after since he was too upset to nurse, and I left to eat something while J watched him. Since it was the only place I was allowed to eat, I sat on a gross chair in the depressing family lounge and finally gave in to that urge to cry that I’d been denying all week. But only for a little bit because I wanted to get back to my tiny boy quickly. I remember thinking that if anyone walked in at that moment, they’d completely understand why I was sitting there sobbing. The NICU is a pretty hard and dismal place most of the time and I have not doubt that most families there were suffering more than I was. They wouldn’t bat an eye at coming upon a woman crying to herself in a sad, empty room. I wouldn’t either.
Went back to E and J, worked to get E to sleep and finally he dozed off in my arms as I sat in the damned recliner that hurt my butt, with my swollen feet propped up to help them. I woke half an hour later from a terrible dream about C. I’d left him out in the yard at my mom’s house and when I went to check on him, lightning started hitting the ground and though I could hear him crying and screaming for me, I couldn’t go out and rescue him since there was so much lightning. So I just stood at the door and listened, hoping he would survive.
I awoke in a panic and missed my boy so much I physically hurt. I let the sadness about E’s miserable start in life wash over me. I allowed myself to want so desperately to be home with my little family. And on top of all that sorrow, I felt irresponsible waking up slumped over my tiny baby. And so I cried again. This time I cried so much that the tears streamed down my chin and neck and woke up J sleeping nearby. It was really pathetic and awful, such a low point. I couldn’t stop crying. Apparently my breaking point came with that nightmare about C and I just decided to accept it. So I sobbed and sobbed in that sad night, holding my almost clinically healthy son while J hugged me.
However, when Monday morning really arrived and E woke us after about 4 hours of sleep, I was refreshed and feeling a bit more optimistic. The day was clear and the sun was beaming, just like one week ago when my tiny boy was born. We were going home soon! No more IV blowouts! All cords and wires off my baby! The day went slowly though since there was lots to do, to pack, and to sign. But finally we were on our way! We picked up C from a friend’s house nearby, and oh my was he happy to see me! And oh, that drive home with 2 boys asleep in the backseat, bliss. What I had clung to all week to get me through was finally here. Monday was here and we driving home.
Whew, what a complicated and stressful week that was! The support we had from all our family and friends let me see how much we are loved. It’s mind boggling how much people offered and gave to help us through that terrible ordeal. The NICU staff was so nice and fairly supportive of breastfeeding and our wishes for E’s care. Of course we would much rather have been at home but if we had to have a sick kid, we appreciated the hospital a great deal!
Sitting here typing this, I ache for those parents in that sad NICU lounge right now. I’m sure someone is in there now, wondering how they will survive another day, worrying about their baby, feeling the sadness and sickness of the NICU overwhelming them. Going home with a healthy child is the goal but no matter how long your stay, it seems impossibly far away. The NICU makes people harder and tougher, I think. It makes you think faster on less sleep than you ever had, it pushes you farther than you’ve ever been, it dangles your child’s life over the edge. It reeks of sorrow and hope and finally sends shell-shocked parents home, hopefully with tiny babies who will never remember a second of their stay. The memory is for the parents, something we will gladly accept so our kids can have one less burden on their innocent little minds. I would take my sad memories and multiply them to haunt me any day, whenever they chose, if only my boy wouldn’t have a single memory or effect from that NICU.
So yes, now E is 2 years and 2 months and is healthy and happy today. He tends to get congested easily and is more susceptible to colds. In the last 12 months he’s only had the flu and a stomach bug and a few colds so really, he is quite healthy for someone who still licks his fingers, hates washing hands, and occasionally eats toys! He is a careful and cautious kid who prefers to be held and takes a good while to warm up to people and places. Sometimes I wonder what effects the NICU had on him. I’ll never know I suppose. Right now he’s wandering in the project room, singing to himself while he plays with a puzzle. Everyday I kiss him and tell him I love him and of course I hold him every chance I get. He’s almost 40 pounds but he’s still my sweet little baby boy. 🙂