A New Normal
Imagine having to get permission from strangers to hold your own child. Imagine having to open circular doors to a clear box to be able to touch your child. Imagine loud alarms going off notifying you that your child’s heartbeat has dropped too low. Imagine arriving at the hospital to visit your child and seeing a man carrying a car seat. Imagine the hurt of knowing that he’s taking his child home today and you are not. Imagine having a baby shower after your baby is born and while she is still in the hospital. Can you imagine? Well, I didn’t have to imagine these things. I lived them.
Things Got Real
The first time I laid eyes on my daughter in the NICU (Neonatal Intensive Care Unit), my heart broke into a million pieces. The first picture that I had seen of her without a blanket was taken on a tablet and was severely distorted. That picture had a plump baby connected to the monitoring machines. That’s not what I saw. I saw a baby that was so small that her arms and legs looked like sticks. No, I am not exaggerating. Elyse was 13 inches long. To give you a reference, a Barbie doll is about 11 ½ inches long. She was tiny. And my heart broke for her. My poor baby. Insert mom guilt. After all, an early delivery is what I wanted right? While I was happy to not have the stress of pregnancy, seeing my baby like that was difficult. The next morning, I cried and prayed a prayer I had never prayed before. I told God that I was going to let Him do what He does, and I was going to be His servant. That is literally one of the few times I cried during her NICU stay.
Within the first few days of her life, she had a procedure to insert a picc line. It was there to give her nutrients. At birth, she was too premature to drink breastmilk from a bottle. Within her first few days, they began to give her breastmilk through her feeding tube. She was a born fighter. They had to attach something to her arm to keep it straight because she would pull the feeding tube out of her nose. She still has that strong personality today.
Four days after her birth, my husband and I were able to hold her for the first time. The nurse had us come during bath time. They had to change the sheets anyway so they said that the parents may as well hold her while they did that. So I slowly hobbled into the hospital (I was still recovering from the C-section) and held my baby. It was glorious. She looked at me as if she knew who I was.
The More You Know
During her stay, we learned all about bradycardias (also known as bradies). That is when the heart rate drops. We learned that apneas for preemies means the times they “forget” to breathe. You see, the babies are used to the mother doing the work for them. And now, here they are doing things on their own before they are ready. One of the qualifications to a preemie leaving the hospital is to have no bradycardias. Elyse had so many that her having ten in a 24 hour period was a good thing to me. The very first time I did kangaroo care with her (when you hold your baby skin to skin), her heart rate dropped so low that the nurses took her from me. Normally, she would self-recover, but she didn’t that time. They rubbed her back and put her back inside her incubator. I was a little traumatized.
Over time, she began to outgrow her episodes. She went from only wearing a diaper, to wearing clothes. She went from being in an incubator to being in a warmer bed to being in an open crib. She slowly gained weight and after 7 ½ weeks in the NICU, we were asked to bring in a car seat so she could do her car seat test. She needed to pass this test before going home. We were told she would probably be going home the next day. The next morning, we only told two people. We left church and waited for the call. We were so anxious.
Time to Go Home
Our baby was ready to come home! As we drove out of the hospital parking lot, I called my parents and sister and told them she was in the car with us heading home. We had a few visitors that night. Our house was filled with love. Our baby was home and right in time for her first holiday, Labor Day, which was the next day. God is good!
Looking back, Elyse’s time in the NICU taught me a lot. It taught me to appreciate life’s moments. It taught me not to rush life. I never got that wheelchair ride with either of my babies. You know the one where the mother is wheeled out of the hospital holding her baby. But what I did get was a happy, healthy baby. And for that, I am grateful. I also learned how strong I was. That strength would come in handy for the first year of her life.
Stay tuned for the post about how life has been since the NICU. See you later friends!