Four years ago in May, I was blissfully pregnant with my first child. I knew she was a girl, I knew she was due at the end of the July, I knew her room was not quite ready, and I knew everything the books told me I should know about the imminent change about to happen in our lives. What I didn’t know was that on May 26th, I would give birth to that little girl nine weeks too early and that the beginning of the scariest months of my life were about to begin.
They took a purple, lifeless, 4lb baby who was not breathing away from us and the room I had her in because unbeknownst to my hubby and I the first attempt at intubation had failed. Her airway was just too small. As they walked away, they told me they would know where we stood in the next hour–the longest hour of my life. Needless to say, I was in shock. Even on the way to the hospital I would never have believed you if you told me I was giving birth that day. But I did, and I was in shock and I was afraid.
Then I was angry and hurt. They would not let me hold her and apart from letting me take her picture, I was not even allowed to touch her for four more days. Each day they told me, “Well, maybe tomorrow…” I know some mothers have had it worse, but those four days were extreme torture for me and everything I thought I knew about having a baby was gone. Even calling her a miracle made me angry. Sure, it was a miracle I made it to the hospital, maybe it was a miracle we left when we did, but I kept thinking a miracle would be if I wasn’t in this situation … a miracle would be getting to take her home.
Instead of getting to take my baby home, I got to be the only mom in the maternity ward whose baby was not rooming in with me, I got to watch them put my baby on life support and stick needles and IV’s into her little arms and legs until there were no fresh veins left, I got to hear innocent but insensitive people suggest I use the time to relax while my baby was in the NICU, I got to make decisions and sign consent forms for risky surgical procedures that may or may not be needed in the next few precious hours, and I got to have an emotional breakdown every time she turned purple and stopped breathing and nurses rushed over to the sounds of alarms going off and shouting for someone to help them. So, no, I did not “get” to have a full term pregnancy that some mothers complain about, but most of all I did not get why this was happening to me! I didn’t understand why I felt so cheated and sad or that I was mourning a pregnancy that ended too soon and that all these feeling were normal.
I needed help, too, and I prayed a lot! And God answered me. Besides the miracle of being allowed to stay in the rented rooms after being discharged and almost sent home without my baby, I did “get” a few things in all those weeks of heartache and fear and uncertainty. I remember the nurse who had been looking for me found me at midnight in the hallway as I was walking back to my room after the tenth milk delivery of the day and asked if I would like to hold my baby tomorrow… I almost collapsed and I remember letting out this uncontrollable sob as if there was any other answer but yes!!
I found out the next day, the moment I was finally allowed to hold my daughter, that it didn’t matter that there were more wires than baby, it felt amazing. I found out that I was capable of so much more love, strength, courage, and commitment than I ever thought possible. I learned that bonding can take place even when touch is impossible. That I could I get up every two hours and endure the pain of hunching over an isolette to sing, pray, or just look (never touching, looking or talking all at once) That I could stand in one spot with legs long since asleep and two arms stuck through plastic holes in the incubator wall cupping the top of my DD’s head with one hand and her bottom with the other. That I could speak up when I disagreed with a doctor or nurse because my mom instincts were stronger than their opinions.
I learned that saying goodbye to the NICU did not mean it was over. Even when your baby is healthy the affects of the NICU stayed with us for a long time. I learned that proudly bringing a baby home who still may forget to breathe occasionally, who must sleep at an incline for a year and be on adult medication for reflux and whose future was uncertain made for an intense mixture of joy and fear. I heard the ringing of alarm bells for months after making the transition home. I slept fitfully with her by my side for months and called the NICU at all hours just to talk or cry and ask if it was normal that I stood at her bedside counting her breaths night after night. I experienced the isolation of spending fall, winter and early spring camped out at home with few or no visitors, not being able to attend church or just going out to show her off. I felt the isolation of needing support while needing to stay away from people and their germs.
I learned to find new milestones to celebrate, even if it was a single gram gained after too many grams lost. I learned to ignore statistics because preemies are capable of amazing feats of strength and endurance. And finally, because even though this all sounds so brutal and intense, my miracle was so much more than any one thing I learned or experienced. Truly believing with all my heart that my baby was here to stay, knowing that my baby girl has accomplished more and overcome more than I could ever imagine in the first few months of her life alone is a humbling and a precious gift most mothers do not receive, and for that I am truly grateful.