I didn’t check my e-mail until Thursday night. My inbox was overflowing with e-mails from friends, family, co-workers, and my boss. Everyone wanted to know what was going on. Most knew I was supposed to have been induced on Monday.
What to say?
To only say that yes, we had the baby, was technically true. But to not include the troubles we were going through seemed like a lie. At the same time, I wasn’t READY to talk about the ICN. To write about it. To explain it to anyone. And then to feel obligated to update everyone.
I didn’t want the sympathy. The stilted, but heartfelt sympathy. I didn’t want to put them in the uncomfortable situation of feeling like they had to reply, to say something … consoling or supportive.
Because really, what do you say to something like that?
I was on the most horrible emotional roller coaster, and it was rocket-fueled by post-partum hormones. I’d SEE an infant at a restaurant, in another car, and I’d tear up. I didn’t want to share that. I wanted to hide. To wrap blankets around my body like a cocoon to shelter my frazzled emotions until it was over and the monkey was home.
So the Hubbs and I talked it over and decided that it was best to not tell anyone until we were ready. So we sent out an e-mail with the barest of information: The Monkey’s full name, his weight, height, and a couple of pictures. We apologized for the delay, saying that things “were crazy” just then. A massive understatement.
The only people who got “real” updates were our parents, and two of our closest friends. The Hubbs would call both sets of parents each night to update them. I’d e-mail or IM our friends, who knew I just needed to vent a little. I couldn’t handle phone conversations. Everyone understood.
There was nothing to say.
Although mentally painful to be discharged because we weren’t bringing the boy home at the same time, it was probably better for my mental health to not be housed in the post-partum area. The entire area was a constant reminder that things “hadn’t gone according to plan.”
I felt like the only woman not staying in her room all day, learning her baby’s cries, leaning over from my bed to pick him up to nurse in the middle of the night. Instead, I stayed in the ICN until the Hubbs forcibly pulled me away to eat/sleep or until it closed — two times a day for an hour and a half — for a staffing change. Although the hospital fed me, I was never in my room when it was delivered. I ate ice-cold food, drank cold soup and tea — without really tasting it. I started to just order sandwiches or cereal, since it didn’t matter that those items were cold.
Sleeping was the hardest. I’d have slept in a chair, on the floor, of the ICN if they had let me. Back in my room, I’d hear a symphony of babies crying at all times of the night. And I’d hear their mothers coo, or the low voices of their fathers soothe. My chest would ache and I’d swallow my sobs (or not) while my newly-lactating breasts literally gushed at the sounds, soaking through my nursing pads, bra, and hospital gown.
One of the older post-partum nurses would hug me whenever she came by. It only made me cry more.
After I was discharged, it was a relief to bypass all the happy, healthy families and babies. It was emotionally easier to walk right by, and get buzzed into the locked area where everyone’s child was attached to beeping monitors. Where everyone’s eyes were red-rimmed and weary; their hearts aching. It was a shared pain. A camaraderie. Most of us never talked. But we’d nod at one another in the halls. In the parking lots.
We were a secret club. Only none of us wanted to be in it.
But faces started becoming familiar. The little girl with her own crib and linens? At 3 months old she still was smaller than the Monkey. I overheard her mother talking one night, explaining to a nearby parent that she was the smallest of triplets. Born two months early. All three of her babies had been in the ICN. Her two boys were already at home, waiting for their sister to join them. The girl had awful reflux. The nurses would put on gowns, face masks, and extra gloves to feed her, trying to help her keep the food down, only to be doused with more than half of it when she inevitably threw up. They all loved her though. They called her the cuddle bug. The snuggler.
One boy, N, has two mothers. He was in one of the lidded tanks for jaundice and because he had a lung problem. He was there, on a respirator, when we were admitted. He was finally well enough to try nursing the same day my milk came in and was nursing the monkey. I remember because after I was done, the Hubbs helped a nurse push the comfy, overstuffed nursing chair over to their area, since N and his mom couldn’t get comfortable in one of the rocking chairs.
In fact, N’s birth mother is the only person we really talked to. She always made an attempt to smile at the parents when she walked by, and would make conversation at the faucets where we all got scrubbed up before visiting the babies. She’d always ask how the monkey was doing. She’d even come over and stroke his cheek and coo at him. She’d marvel at his fuzzy head.
Everyone in the ICN did, actually. In an area where all the kids have health issues, and many are born premature, a full head of hair was a marvel. His nurses would always stroke his little head, his cheek, and tell me that they always knew when the monkey was crying: He’d always wake up about five minutes after we had left, realize we were gone, and scream. (Which broke my heart. I wanted to believe that he slept peacefully after we left, never realizing we were gone. No such luck.)
He also had the lowest-toned cry of all the babies there. The other babies had the high-pitched cries. They were sopranos, hitting high notes that made you cringe. The monkey was a contralto among them; he only hit high notes when he was REALLY ticked off, which usually involved a doctor examination.
A baby girl in the bassinet closest to the Monkey, was brought in with diabetic open sores on her head. She was taken to the ICN as soon as she was born. Her mother was wheeled in later. The first time she saw her baby was in the ICN, making me grateful for the few hours I had before we were brought in. The girl was endlessly being poked, her blood sugar tested. And ultimately, she went home before the Monkey.
It seemed like a horrible injustice. This baby had open, weeping sores on the top of her head and they were sending her home four days before we ended up going home. I cried after walking in one afternoon after lunch and seeing that empty bassinet. And not because I wished her ill. Not in the least. I was really happy for her parents.
It was just that I wanted to be that family so badly that it hurt. I wanted to be the ones walking out of there, starting our lives as a family. I wasn’t the only one. Several mothers, when walking in and doing the cursory scan of the room before heading to their children teared up after seeing that empty bassinet.
It seemed to mock us. It definitely haunted us. For me, it made the doctor’s announcement that the Monkey wouldn’t go home until at least the weekend even harder to take.
Time blurs when you’re in the hospital — especially when you give birth at 12:49 in the morning and then go to sleep. When I woke up I thought it was Monday already, instead of Sunday, so my whole timeline is totally jacked, for which I apologize.
My parents didn’t know we were in the ICN when they got to the hospital — they had to call the Hubbs to clue them in. He went out into the waiting room to let them know what was going on while I stayed with the Monkey, holding his little hand. Since only two visitors are allowed at once, my dad came in next while the Hubbs stayed outside with my mom. We talked for maybe 20 minutes, but my dad was too intimidated to hold the Monkey if he wasn’t sitting. My mom came in for less than 10 minutes. She hardly looked at me the entire time. Her eyes got misty at one point, then she gave me a big hug, told me I was doing a good job, and practically ran out.
I think they both knew I was just barely holding it together and didn’t want to be the ones to unleash the crazy/hysteria I was harboring. Also, I can’t imagine its easy to see your grandbaby there.
After 24 hours under the hood, the Monkey was starting to breathe better. He was still noisy and congested, but it LOOKED easier. His little chest wasn’t straining so hard to get the air in. He was figuring out that he could breathe through is mouth and not just his nose — a big deal for a newborn. The doctor was very optimistic. One more day on the medicine under the hood and the Monkey would likely be able to go home with us on Wednesday. Coincidentally, the same day I was to be discharged.
We would be able to go home as a family and put this whole ICN behind us as a minor blip.
On another positive note, my milk had “come in”. As in, holy torpedoes, Batman, my milk had COME IN. Someone call the dairy. I actually thought the girls might pop. I went from girl next door to porn star within hours. The ICN nurses brought me ice bags for them. If Jim Carrey were there, he would want to bounce them like Sugar Ray Leonard.
To his credit, the Monkey has ALWAYS been able to latch and has a great appetite, all good signs, all encouraging.
Now that my milk had come in, I was trying to nurse the Monkey on his schedule. This meant waking up at 4:30 a.m. Tuesday for his morning feed. At 2 a.m., the phone in my hospital room rang. It was the overnight pediatrician.
They monkey had not peed all night, and she wanted to know if he had peed earlier. Because she examined him down there and COULDN’T FIND a hole. She mentioned the words “air lifting” to the nearest Children’s Hospital and “emergency surgery.”
Cue the waterworks.
So as I’m breaking down into a blubbery mess, the Hubbs reacted with anger. And he totally pulled a “With all due respect” out of his ear and asks the doctor why it wasn’t noticed before. Because that’s a kind of important thing, a kid not having a hole to pee out of. The doctor says she’s going to examine him again, and hangs up.
And poor Hubbs, he’s trying to calm me down and comfort me and dealing with my “ohmygawd what did I do wrong in the past 9 months to cause this to happen”and JUST gets me calmed down when the phone rings again. Its the doctor. And guess what? OOPS. She found the hole. A wee bit of skin had grown over it and she just flicked it with a needle and guess what? Little guy peed up a storm. ALL OVER HER.
Crisis averted, no airlifting or emergency surgery needed. Sorry to bother you folks. And now the Hubbs has to deal with my crying again. This time, in relief.
On Wednesday morning, the Monkey is breathing much better. So much better that the doctor is going to take him off the hood and if he’s still doing good at noon, we can go home. As a family. And be done with this hospital. We stay until 10:30 for his mid-morning feed then retreat to my hospital room for my now-ice cold breakfast and to pack our bags. We’re back before 11:30, and the Monkey is back under the hood.
His breathing is severely labored. His lips are slightly blue, and he has three doctors surrounding his little bassinet.
He didn’t go home that day.
He wasn’t discharged.
The nurses in postpartum were super sweet and let me stay in the room until 10 p.m. Which meant, my stuff stayed in the room while we were in the ICN. The Hubbs went to the car and brought it to the front of the hospital and schlepped all our bags downstairs and into the car. I sat in the wheelchair and let them escort me to the doors, heart breaking that there wasn’t a baby in my lap.
The Hubbs helped me get buckled, and got into the driver’s seat and sighed. It was a loud, wooshing sound. We didn’t talk. The car was so quiet. I kept *almost* turning my head to the backseat, with its empty baby carrier.
“Don’t look,” he mumbled. I nodded, and kept my eyes forward for about two stoplights. Then I looked back and burst into tears.
I cried all the way home.
Let me first say, that the doctors and nurses here are great. Each nurse was assigned two babies, and they were fabulous about giving us updates as the week progressed.
That being said, the ICN is a horrible place to be. It means something is wrong. It means you can’t have your baby in the room with you at the hospital. It means you might be discharged before your baby. It means you’re on an emotional roller coaster — and that’s before the post-partum hormones kick in.
First, you have to identify yourself to the receptionist, who buzzes you in. Then you have to get scrubbed in. Its like you’re a surgeon, you wash up to your elbows with an individually wrapped device that is half sponge (soaked with soap), half soft-bristled comb. You clean under your fingernails, around the nailbed, all the way up to the elbows.
Then you pass through a doorway into the baby room. Your first time there, its overwhelming. Monitors beep. People talk in hushed tones. The babies are laid along the walls in clear acrylic bassinets. They lay there, swaddled bundles in white. Some crying, some sleeping, some simply gazing ahead. Some have blindfolds on and are enclosed in huge tanks with UV lights glaring down on them. Others are in similar tanks without lights, their parents and nurses only able to touch them through armholes. One baby is different. She has nearly an entire wall to herself. She has a real crib with her own sheets: white crib, pink butterfly sheets. Her baby mobile, filled with matching butterflies and flowers, tinkles out “twinkle, twinkle little star.”
The parents look numb. Zombie-like. They look up for a moment when someone enters the room, then their eyes slide back to their children. When a doctor enters the room, everyone sits straighter, eyes glued, until the doctor walks over to a particular patient. Everyone looks away again, shoulders slumping.
My monkey is closest to the door. He’s swaddled tight in a white hospital blanket and propped up on a gel-like pillow with rolled blankets keeping him in place. Black, red, and green wires twine out of the blanket. He has tubes up his little nose, lightly puffing pure oxygen. The mini warmer hovering above his bed is on. He’s asleep, sucking on a green Soothie binkie. Behind him, a heart monitor beeps and electronic lines bump and pulse. He sighs, scrunches his little face, and goes back to sucking on the pacifier.
I hover, staring at the tubes up his nose. Why him? Why any of these babies? Why couldn’t it have been ME who had difficulties? Before the birth, when the Hubbs and I had the “what if” talk, I told him that if anything went wrong — if it was between me and the baby — that he HAD to tell the doctors to save the baby first. It was what I wanted. And now this. I felt powerless. I WAS powerless.
There was absolutely nothing we could do but wait.
When the neonatologist finally came in, he told us his initial assessment: That the monkey had really, really small nasal passages that were inflamed from all the suctioning done to him after birth. They were hoping that given time, and a little medicine, the inflamation would go down and we could go home in a day or two. They were starting to hook up the medication: A warm, humidified mist with something like Afrin nasal spray added in. They could only use it for a few days otherwise the condition would worsen. On top of that, to make sure the monkey got enough of the mist, they had a “hood” for him: A clear plastic bowl with a cut-out for his neck and a connection for the tube to funnel in the mist. He looked like an astronaut.
Also, for the medicine to really take hold, he had to stay under the hood almost 100% of the time. We were only allowed to hold him for 2 hours a day, 1 hour at a time — except for nursing. I spent most of that day sitting next to his bassinet, my hand on his belly. If his binky fell out, I’d lift the hood and put it back. If he managed to free an arm from the swaddle (the kid’s a mini Houdini), I’d kiss his little hand and tuck the blankets back in around him. I reveled in the brief times I was able to hold him.
I forgot some vitals on the Monkey: He was born at 12:49 a.m., on a Sunday. He weighed 8 pounds 9 ounces, and was 21 inches long. I was in labor for more than 17 hours with more than three hours of active pushing.
We were moved to our post-partum room at 3 a.m., and shortly after was taken for a bath (accompanied by the Hubbs) which allowed me about an hour of sleep. During that time, the Monkey seemed to stuff up, so they stuck a tube up his nose and suctioned out some more amniotic fluid. The nurses said that because forecepts were used, not as much amniotic fluid was pushed out of his lungs and that it was nothing to worry about.
After the Hubbs and Monkey returned, we all settled in for some well-deserved rest. I had the Monkey’s crib thing pulled right next to my bed so I could reach out and touch him if I needed to. He was all swaddled and snuggly and asleep. But his breathing was noisy. At first I didn’t think much of it, but as the hours ticked by — and I didn’t sleep — I started to worry. WHY was his breathing so noisy?
At one point, the Hubbs looked up from his uncomfortable hide-a-bed chair and grumped, “He’s not going to be like that every night is he?”
Later that morning, a pediatrician from the office we chose came to the hospital to do her own check on the Monkey. Our parents were on their way to see him, and we were trying to wake up. For his exam, they took the Monkey to the nursery. The Hubbs stayed with me, so he could shower and shave.
After 30 minutes, I started getting antsy. “What’s taking so long?”
“Don’t worry about it,” he’d chide.
After an hour, I started getting scared. “What’s taking so long? Where is he?”
“Don’t worry,” he soothed, but I saw the frown.
A half hour after that, I was panicked. “Where’s my baby? I want my baby.”
“It’s OK …”
“NO. It’s NOT. I want my baby. Hubbs … go find him!”
He was putting his shoes on (and probably thinking that I was completely off my rocker) when the nurse wheeled the Monkey back into the room with the pediatrician in tow. She apologized for taking so long with the exam. But his breathing worried her. She wanted to put him into the intensive care nursery (ICN) for monitoring and extra care.
Rationally, I knew that if his breathing was a concern, the ICN was the best place for him. But that meant taking him out of my room. Where I could lean over at any moment and see him or touch his cheek or hold his hand. The new mommy in me freaked WAY OUT.
My vision blurred as the tears welled up. I nodded.
“I need to take him over now,” the nurse said softly. “You’ll need to stay here for about 30 minutes while they get him set up, then you can go over and visit.”
Then, like a jailer, she stood there while I hiccuped, pulled myself together, and kissed him. I told him everything was going to be OK. That momma would be there soon and not to worry.
And I burst into tears as the nurse started to wheel him toward the door, only to have it opened by my in-laws — who were all smiles and cheer.
The Hubbs took charge, told them what was going on, and I asked the nurse for two more minutes so his grandparents could see him for the first time. They oohed and awed over him for a few minutes and then she took him away.
And then I burst into tears. Again.
So there I was, contractions 3 minutes apart, in an elevator at the hospital, grasping at my husband’s hand to stay upright. Oddly, I wasn’t scared — I was excited. Relieved. I really wasn’t going to be pregnant forever! IT WAS FINALLY HAPPENING.
So, pushing means to push like you’re going No.2. Every try to do that when your butt’s asleep? Cause that’s kinda how it is with the epidural. You can’t FEEL anything, so you’re not quite sure you’re doing it right, which sounds funny, but its true. And after an hour — yes AN HOUR of pushing, the nurse can finally see the Sea Monkey’s head. And guess what? He’s got a fuzzy head. Just like his sibling, THE CYST. Apparently, I make fuzzy things. Anyhoo. ANOTHER hour goes by and the Sea Monkey is at ‘2’ and we still need to get to ‘0’. All these numbers!