Tuesday, June 9, 2009

My Darkest Day

Boy, that sounds ominous, doesn’t it? I had to reconsider the title before deciding that it would work…not because the day that I am going to discuss is not Dark, but that I’m always hesitant to define the best or the worst. What if I remember a darker day later? So the day that I’m going to tell you about is the Darkest Day that I remember as of this minute…and hopefully the Darkest Day that I’ll ever have! I can’t even think of being more miserable.

It was three years ago today. I had given birth the day before to a beautiful, albeit tiny Baby boy. He was perfect! At 33.5 weeks gestation, he weighed only 4 lb 5 oz, but was healthy and didn’t even look like a preemie. He was our miracle…an oops that we could never have imagined in our most wonderful dreams. The pregnancy was more difficult than my other two, but he was wanted and loved as much as they had been. They had been perfectly planned; he was a glorious surprise. As one would expect, he was taken from my arms to NICU in minutes after his birth. He was on a ventilator for only about 30 minutes, and that only because he had ingested blood and needed to clear his lungs and throat.

The dark day began at midnight, when all of the other mommies in post-partum were waking to feed their newborns. Midnight is a key time, as the nurses come in to weigh the babies for the start of the day, and there is crying all down the hall for a good hour or so. Beautiful wailing of sweet little ones, who are so new to the earth that they are still scared and agitated when taken from their mother. My baby was one floor above me, and I was unable to be with him. I’d never experienced this before. My other two were able to spend most of their day in my room, and I had full access to them. Since I’d had a cesarean, I couldn’t move well, and was confined to my bed. I had visited him many times that first day, when my family would take me in a wheelchair to sit next to his isolette. But all night, I heard the full term babies cry as they were checked out, then slip into silence as they snuggled up to sleep.

Because he had been born so early, I felt as if I was suddenly and inexplicably alone. I had been in bed for 12 days prior, every minute being aware of his movements and listening to his heartbeat on monitors. Now, it was quiet…no baby heartbeat, no movement, just an empty space where he used to be.

I was being cheated of more than a full month of feeling my baby move inside me. My body was completely out of whack, having terminated the pregnancy much earlier than it had expected, and I think it was about that time that the hormones began to fly off of the charts.

I was very tired, as I had not slept much the night before his birth, either. My blood pressure had been abnormally low – which I felt was a blessing! As a mother of “advanced maternal age”, I had worried that my blood pressure would be high, so when they were worried about it being low, I couldn’t see why it was a problem! My doctor came in first thing that morning and did some tests, then seriously talked with me about the blood pressure issue. She said that if my hematocrits did not come up considerably, that they would need to give me a blood transfusion. I wasn’t in the mood to talk to her, as it was now daylight and I was ready to see my baby. My health seemed to be a minor concern, compared to what he was having to endure, and I simply did not want to waste any time talking about it. Because I had such low blood pressure, they would not remove my catheter or IV, and I had to be moved in a wheelchair.

On top of all of this, I hadn’t really paid attention to or asked about my pain meds, and somehow, they slipped through the cracks. Okay, I was a little flighty when it came to those things; I simply wanted to get up to NICU. So I went most of that day without any pain meds after having major surgery the day before. I was in intense pain, and it wears you down.

I finally arrived in NICU to see my baby. He had slept well, and would be able to eat today. What great news! As a breastfeeding mother, I knew that would give us time to bond and be together. I’d never had a preemie before. I had no idea how different they are from a full-term baby. I didn’t realize that he was not strong enough to suck, much less to breastfeed, which takes much more energy. ‘Eating’ for him meant a gavage tube down his nose, through which they fed him the precious few drops that I was able to express that first night.

The nurse that was in charge of him that morning was not particularly forthcoming, and didn’t explain much about what was happening. I sat in my wheelchair, all day, watching him sleep. I could touch him, although the nurse didn’t seem to like that, and I certainly couldn’t take him out and hold him. The nurse appeared to be very put out that I wanted to hold him, and put me off as long as possible. And he did NOT want me to breastfeed! I felt so alienated and didn’t get to connect with the baby at all! Even when I held him, I felt like the nurse was agitated that I was doing it, and it made me more crazy.

I returned to my room that night and was inconsolable. I cried harder than I can ever remember crying. You have no idea the emotions that you will feel when your child is in NICU…pain, loneliness, and sorrow that your child is not with you…panic that something will go wrong, especially when you are not in the NICU with him…isolation, because the world keeps spinning and all you can think about is your baby, wanting to be with him even if it means spending hours just staring at him…anger that this has happened, that you are not able to take him home…frustration that you don’t understand what is happening with him, and that the world of preemies is so intimidating and confusing…loss in the sense that you have had weeks of pregnancy taken from you, and that your dream of having a healthy baby to love has been dashed…and GUILT…because it was MY body that did this to him.

I was so frustrated with my role as his parent, because I had not even had the chance to hold him and love him that day. I wondered if he would come home to a family that he didn’t know, a mother that he didn’t recognize. I had no idea how to parent him!

My hubby tried desperately to get me to sleep, to get my pain meds worked out, and to take care of myself. He knew that if I was in better condition, I would be able to help my baby more effectively, but I was hopeless.

By early the following morning, I had cried a million tears. As the night progressed, I went from despondent, to angry, to furious. By the time morning came, I was a new woman. My meds had stabilized, and I was able to get up and walk around. I went down the hall to fill my own icewater, something that I’d been unable to do for the last two weeks. That was really liberating!!! And thankfully, my blood pressure had come up and I was able to shed the unwanted baggage that I’d had to drag around.

I marched into NICU that morning with determination. A wonderful, caring, and amazing nurse was in charge of him, a great change from the medically competent but emotionally distant nurse from the day before. I stood my ground, and let her know how difficult that day had been for me. How I felt like I was being shuffled off, away from the baby. That the nurse hadn’t explained anything, and that I wanted to be with my baby and care for my baby as much as I could.

She simply smiled, and began to fill me in on the intricacies of premature babies. I learned so much from her over the three weeks that he remained in the hospital! They are an entirely different breed from full term babies! She explained to me why things were being done, how much I could be involved, and how important it was for me to be there for him. I felt empowered! I was able to change his diaper, take his temperature, and assist in any things that the nurses were doing with him.

I still cried. Between hormones and emotions running rampant, I cried until the day he was allowed to come home. But at least I felt that I was able to DO something; my baby was not completely out of my care.

Our time in NICU was the longest three weeks EVER. But, in hindsight, it is something that I will treasure forever. I truly believe that the closest thing to heaven on earth is NICU. These tiny frail bodies are almost always inhabited by the most vibrant spirits! (If they are not valiant spirits, they do not make it that far) To be in their presence is an honor. And the staff…I cannot say enough about NICU staff. They are angels. Besides the terrible day that we had, which was just one nurse that was not empathetic. These nurses and doctors not only care for the fragile babies in their care, but they treat the entire family, as we work through the process. They took care of our physical needs, our emotional needs. They talked me through the hard times, they comforted me when I thought that my baby would never go home. Most of all, they provided excellent, loving care for my baby. I will forever be in awe of the staff that blessed us.

Three years later – the baby had a birthday on Monday! – He is healthy and wild and crazy and strong, and you would never know that he was once a scrawny little preemie. The three weeks in NICU seems like a flash in the pan. I’ve not since had a day nearly so dark…but I learned a great deal that day. I learned that you have to stand up for yourself. You have to voice your concerns, and ASK for help. Ask in prayer, and ask those around you. You need to be an active participant in everything that you do.

I also learned that post-surgery pain meds are a must, sleep is a very good thing, and once in awhile, my hubby is right. {wink}

1 comment:

  1. After Emily was born and I was trying to be tough, my doctor said, "there's really no point to post-surgical pain", which was an eye opener! I started taking more and was better off for it.
    Love this post.. isn't the process of life such a blessing? That our darkest days can be ones we look back on with great memories and perspective.