Celebrating Mother’s Day in the hospital

May 4, 2016

I never expected to spend my first Mother’s Day in a children’s hospital. But in May 2015, that was where I celebrated it.

A year earlier I discovered my pregnancy on Mother’s Day and carried that secret inside of me for two days before telling my husband. I spent those hours daydreaming of future Mother’s Days with picnics in the park, fresh-picked flowers and maybe even breakfast in bed.

Theo meets James Dean the cat on his first day home from the hospital. Photo credit// Danielle Dreger

Theo meets James Dean the cat on his first day home from the hospital. Photo credit// Danielle Dreger

But my 27-week micro-preemie, Theo, changed those daydreams. Because it took so much time for his lungs to heal after pneumonia, a superbug and PDA ligation surgery the previous fall, we had just celebrated his six month birthday at the local Children’s Hospital where he was still tethered to 2.5 liters of oxygen and a feeding tube. Earlier in the week, the pulmonologist and residents had started flirting with “sprints:” taking Theo off the additional oxygen for two, four, or even six hours at a stretch and monitoring his stats to see how he did. We were working towards a June discharge date. I had long stopped looking ahead and only focused on the moments as they came. Almost losing your son will do that to you.

Mother’s Day blindsided me. I hadn’t made plans. It seemed like I’d spend that Sunday morning like I’d spent every other morning at that hospital for the last three months: eating a Starbucks breakfast sandwich while I pumped next to Theo’s hospital crib. I’d chat with this week’s attending pulmonologist and this month’s resident about Theo’s night and help the nurse do his vitals. My husband and I would read our Kindles in the recliners while Theo napped. Watch a baseball game on TV.  If I was lucky I’d take a shower in the parent lounge.

But Mother’s Day hadn’t snuck up on the pulmonologist. Theo apparently had been rocking his no oxygen sprints to the point that his medical team decided he didn’t need it anymore. Then the pulmonologist asked, “How’d you like to take him home for Mother’s Day?”

I was speechless. It hadn’t occurred to me that I would have my son home so soon. I wasn’t prepared. There were still things to set up. We needed to board the dogs, make arrangements for a home pump for his feeding tube, and call my mom for backup. Sensing my panic the doctor said, “We won’t actually discharge you on Mother’s Day, but how does Monday sound?”

And so I spent my first Mother’s Day learning how to place (and replace) a NG feeding tube, how to set the pump so that Theo could be fed continuously and how to administer infant CPR. I met with physical and occupational therapy for things to work on at home until our home-based PT/OT was set up. I scheduled follow-up doctor appointments and talked with a social worker. It was terrifying and overwhelming to have so much information thrown at me at once. The day passed by in a blur.  I can’t remember if I received flowers. There might have been a card. My husband took my mom and I out to an early-bird dinner at a steakhouse nearby and we spent the meal finalizing Theo’s homecoming.

As we walked the two blocks back to the hospital I couldn’t help but notice that Spring had arrived while we had been cooped up in Theo’s hospital room. The sun was shining, the birds were singing, and the trees were in bloom. And as happy as these signs made me I realized that Mother’s Day was just a date on the calendar. The real holiday was bringing Theo home.