OK, so here is where we left off with the birth story - my sons surprise arrival 7 weeks early.
After the miracle of birth, cord cutting, and shedding of tears as we got to hold our bundle of joy for the first time, Finn was taken from my arms and whisked off to the NICU with the NICU birthing team, the doctor, Beth-the-super-nurse and Sasha all close behind, leaving me left completely alone.
I was still a paraplegic from the epidural, so I was not going anywhere. I took advantage of my empty room and my empty uterus and went to sleep. After such a long and crazy night, sleep was the only thing in the world I wanted at that moment. I was allowed about one good hour before Nurse Beth came bounding back into my room to try and get me showered and ready to visit the baby. I wanted to keep sleeping more than anything, but Beth was persistent. I tried to stand with Beth on one side of me and Sasha on the other, but one leg was still in a state of apathy, so it took forever.
I knew I had a baby; I was no longer pregnant and the result of the long night was clear: I had given birth, but it was extremely surreal and I did not know how to feel. I was not yet in love with my baby. I had barely seen him and now the usual events of caring for your own child had taken a different turn.
Once I was finally showered and back in a fresh hospital gown, Beth got me a wheelchair and tried to rush me off to the nursery before I could brush my soaking hair and put on a dab of lipstick, but I insisted she give me a moment. Finally I was wheeled into the nursery where first I had to scrub at the sink for full a two minutes with surgical soap and sponge.
Seeing my baby for the first time, naked but for a diaper, laying helplessly beneath a heat lamp, my heart leapt up to my throat and pushed tears out of my eyes. He had a tiny IV stuck in his tiny hand, and tiny electrodes stuck to his tiny torso to monitor his heartbeat, breathing and oxygen levels. One thing was noticeably missing and that was a breathing tube. He was breathing fine on his own despite his early arrival, which was a huge relief and a very good sign.
We visited Finn for about 30 minutes. It felt so weird to leave him there while I wheeled back to my room, but I had to let professionals care for my son to help get him as strong as possible. We had no idea when he would be allowed home.
Soon it was time for lunch and what a glorious lunch it was. I was on the gestational diabetes diet until the second Finn was born and now I was free to consume carbs as I pleased. My lunch came with a cookie and it was the best cookie I have ever tasted.
I was still exhausted and hoped to sleep some more, but my room turned into a circus. I had nurses still checking my vitals, others coming in to update me on the baby, doctor visits, NICU staff visits and my favorite, the lactation specialist. Since Finn was too small to breastfeed but mother’s milk was still the best thing for him (a phrase we heard repeatedly was breast milk was like liquid gold), I had to start pumping and pronto! She loaned me a giant yellow contraption that had one pump for each breast attached to some crazy sucking machine. It made an urgent sound and was rather intimidating. With a pump in each hand and no free hand to do anything else, I sat and pumped and prayed that no one would walk in at this vulnerable moment. Breastfeeding is one thing. It is a beautiful time for mother and child; the bare breast is a miraculous life force as the baby nourishes directly from the source. Pumping is much more ghastly, with both breasts exposed and distorted, attached to plastic bottles making a grotesque noise as they suck you dry.
I could visit Finn at any time, but decided to visit when the nurses did cluster care. This was designed to give him the least amount of stimulus as possible throughout the day by doing everything at once. Every 3 hours his diaper would be changed, his temperature would be taken and any leads that needed to be adjusted or moved were done at that time and then he would be left alone to sleep. We could help by changing his diaper and taking his temperature via armpit and this would make us feel more involved with our child’s care. We would be able to hold him once a day at one of these care times. It was hard, because he should have still been inside me not having to do things like be cold or breathe air or feel the kind of pain associated with getting an I.V or getting a tube put up his nose and down his throat.
When Sasha & I returned at the 9pm care time, we got buzzed into the NICU and tried to scrub our hands like surgeons so we could attend to Finn, but there was another couple in the way. This was confusing as we knew we were the only ones with a baby in the nursery. When the nurse saw us she ran up to check our wrist tags and then quickly accosted the other couple who looked disheveled and smelled of cigarette smoke and dirt. She started yelling that there is only one baby in here and Sasha rushed over to Finn’s side and yelled: “That is our baby!” The first thought that had come to our minds was that these people were somehow trying to take off with our infant. The nurse rushed them out and then apologized to us. We had not seen this nurse before, so she must have thought this other couple were Finn’s parents and buzzed them right in. Later we found out that the woman had given birth at the hospital, but had disappeared and left the baby in their care. After a few days the baby was taken by child services. I guess she had come to her senses and returned that night, but her baby was somewhere else.
That night we got to hold Finn for only the second time. The nurse was named Lonny; she was small with short black hair and she talked really fast and pinched sounding. She told me to kangaroo the baby, which meant put his naked little body inside my shirt, next to my skin. What a cool feeling to hold my sweet little baby so close to my heart. He was so small with dark little eyes, but he already seemed like his own person.
Here we are kangarooing:
Look how small he is here; he fits in the palm of a hand:
Sasha slept at home that night, but returned for the 9:00 am cluster visit. Finn had now been moved to the isolette, which is the little Plexiglas incubator box, and was now sporting two new accessories: a feeding tube up his nose and tiny sunglasses. There was also a blue light shining on him because he had become jaundice and this is the reason for the shaded eyes.
Since I had given birth at 9:36 am the previous day, I expected to be released very soon since hospitals like to kick you out 24 hours afterwards and I had already been there a full week. Sasha’s parents were flying out and arriving this day. They had planned to come to the baby shower that we had to cancel, so they came anyway and now would be able to meet their grandson.
When the doctor came in to check on me she said she was going to keep me another day since this was not a normal birth. I told her she was killing me. When she realized I had been there a week, she instantly changed her plan and said I could go home. I later regretted not taking her up on one more day of bed rest.
Now that I had the go ahead to check out, this is when time slowed to a crawl and everything took forever. There were very unusual delays and I just wanted to get out of there, see my cats again and be a normal person. Of course nothing is normal about leaving your baby behind.
My excitement to getting home quickly turned to annoyance when I saw the state of disarray. Since Sasha had been running back and forth from home to the hospital all week, the house became a veritable dumping ground. This is when I wished that I was still checked into the hospital, because then there would be nothing I could do, but with my in-laws already in flight, I could not let it go.
Before I could worry about that, my friend Aimee brought us lunch (sandwiches, drinks and chips) and a small birthday cake (to commemorate the small birth). She had had a baby only 5 weeks earlier and brought him with her. I kept telling her that I had a baby, too, but I don’t think she believed me and then I began to doubt the whole birth myself.
After Aimee left, it was time to pump. Having never had to do such a thing at home before, I just plugged the thing right in the living room. Just then Sasha’s folks called and said they were on their way from the airport. I asked Sasha to clarify if they just left the airport of if they are closer, because that would make a difference to me as I sat there with my top off. Turned out they were only 20 blocks away, so Sasha asked them to stall. This gave me a chance to pump and then very slowly try to pick up all the crap lying around the house. I had only given birth the day before, and being bedridden for an entire week made my legs like jell-o, so this was a rather exhausting activity.
The arrival of the in-laws timed in such a way that we missed the 3:00 pm cluster care with Finn and the motherly guilt twangs bonged in my head, but they came with us to the 6:00 pm care time and got to meet their grandson for the first time. They could not hold him but they could touch him through the little round window door. The nurse turned off the jaundice light & took off Finn’s little sunglasses so we could see his face.
We then went to eat at a Mexican restaurant and while we were waiting to place our order, I saw a pregnant woman walk by and I burst into tears right there at the table. I am sure my hormones were completely whacked out, but I was supposed to be the pregnant woman celebrating at my baby shower that weekend and instead I was away from my baby while he was all alone in the hospital, getting poked and prodded by strangers.
The visit with Sasha’s folks was as perfect as it could be. They stayed in a hotel and had their own car. They brought gifts for the baby and gave us some money to help pay some bills since we were down to one income earlier than planned and had no idea what this kind of hospitalization could cost. I am hugely grateful that Sasha’s dad got to meet Finn, because he died suddenly of a stroke less than 2 months later; he was only 66 years old.
For weeks my new daily schedule consisted of going back and forth to the hospital 3 times a day. At first Sasha came with me to every visit, but then he went back to work and could only come at the 9:00 pm visit. Since I was checked into the hospital for a week myself and was now coming so many times a day, I got to know all the nurses. I felt a little like family when I would get a warm greeting each time I got off the elevator. I loved all the nurses that took care of me during my stay, but it was a slightly different story concerning the nurses that took care of my baby. They were all very nice, but each time I came in, it seemed like there was a new nurse taking care of him. This was difficult, because they each behaved differently, had different rules and would tell me something different about my child’s care; they each seemed crazy in their own way. This was extremely frustrating as we really just needed some consistency when it came to the care of our tiny, helpless infant.
There was the tall, blonde nurse who spoke way too loudly and was constantly making a racket when Finn was trying to sleep. She would tell a joke and then repeat the punch line over and over and over again. There was the one with dark, short curly hair like a sponge who wore patterned scrubs in a Halloween theme. There was the male nurse who always seemed be around when I was trying to breast feed or was using the pump so I could leave some milk for the night feedings. He would come and sit with me while my tits were out and make idle conversation. Then there was the one who was rough with Finn: I had just changed him and then he began hysterically crying, which was unusual and scary. There was a new nurse there and she picked up my baby and tossed him around like a sack of potatoes. She had been a baby nurse for over 30 years, so babies must have just become like objects to her or something. I started to cry and did not stop until her manager came over so I could file a complaint. I was given a certificate for $7 of free food in the hospital lounge.
People would tell met that I was lucky to have a newborn but still be able to get some sleep, but I was really not getting very much rest at all. I had to be up early to get to the hospital at a specific time and then I would be out late at the hospital each night. There were no breaks on the weekends and my nights were so disjointed. Plus, there was the guilt of not being at the hospital 24 hours a day and the worry that something could happen to Finn: these thoughts caused me sleepless nights.
One positive thing about having a team of nurses care for our baby, was we got an in depth training on child care before being left to our own devices. I had no real idea how to change a diaper, give a baby a bath or even put clothes on a baby, so it was nice having someone there to show me the best way to do each thing.
Each day I got to know Finn a little better. Just laying my eyes on him would make every bad feeling go away and a sense of joy would blossom deep within. He was such a sweet baby, not to mention handsome and charming.
We were never given a timeframe to look forward to when we might expect him to come home. It was always day to day. Other premie or special needs babies would check into the NICU, but they were usually there only a few days. Finn suffered from what was referred to as: White Boy Syndrome. For some reason it took the male babies longer to figure things out and especially the white ones. We were told repeatedly that one day a light would just turn on and he would get it. Before he could be considered for release, he had to regulate his own body temperature, gain weight and eat without aid of the feeding tube also known as the Gavage.
Within the first week he was able to regulate his own body temperature and was moved out of the scary incubator and into a regular crib.
By the second week he was finally gaining weight and eating more food each day; we were able to hold him any time we visited instead of just once a day. It took forever to get him to eat on his own and my controversial opinion is that this may have had a little to do with the fact that it was easier for the nurses to gavage him at night rather than sit there with a bottle while he slowly ate. During my visits, he would do well on the bottle or breast, but we never wanted to push him. Finally after 3 weeks of this, there seemed to be no end and I began to suspect the nurses wanted him there with them forever.
Then one day it happened. Finn drank on his own from a bottle for a complete 24 hour period. We just had to wait for the doctor to do the last check before giving us the go ahead to take him home. We had his car seat inspected and waiting there for him. A doctor we had not seen before showed up just before 10:00 am and I immediately became worried. There were premie twins recently checked into the NICU and the doctor tended to them first. Suddenly she noticed us staring at her and she asked if we had any questions. Yes, when can I take my baby home? She became flabbergasted and spouted the 3 rules of temp, weight gain and eating on his own. I began to sweat as I tried to calmly clue her into the fact that he does all these things and that we were told by the doctor yesterday that he could very well go home today. She said she does not vouch for any other doctor and would have to check for herself, but first she needed to finish with the twins.
I began to see spots and hyperventilate, but tried to appear as composed as possible for the next one hour and forty-five more minutes. FINALLY she checked Finn’s chart, confirmed with the nurses, gave him a once over and then deemed him free to go.
After a total of one month in that hospital (one week for me, 3 weeks for Finn), we were free to go and to hopefully never return.
We had a baby and he was ours for the taking. We strapped Finn in his car seat and carried him out to the elevators. We hugged all the nurses goodbye and made our way to the car. We half expected someone to come running after us to take him back. Finn was very quiet as he had his first elevator ride and then his first car ride. I sat in the back seat with him and told him everything was going to be OK. He would not be poked or prodded anymore and would be hugged and loved by his parents 24 hours a day.
He is almost 6 months old already and the best, cutest baby on this planet earth.