Life in NICUland, Part Two

It got easier. Leaving her and going to another room on another floor got easier. It helped that I was heavily medicated for pain, that I was exhausted, and that Josh and I at least had each other. We’d go to the NICU and breast-feed and cuddle, then back downstairs where we slept. Rarely did we go back to our room and not sleep.

Initial bloodwork–routine for babies born as traumatically as Teagan–showed that her white blood cell count was elevated, along with another marker for infection. Coupled with my long labor with ruptured membranes and my GBS + status, the neonatologist recommended a three day course of antibiotics to treat a possible infection. Even though her blood culture eventually came back negative, he later recommended an additional four days of antibiotics since a) her white blood cell levels were declining, but very slowly, too slowly if the levels were due only to a rough delivery and b) there was no indication that her levels weren’t declining because of the treatment, in which case it was important to continue in order to eradicate the infection entirely.

That’s the long-winded way to say that we were there for seven days, but that she wasn’t very ill. She didn’t act ill at all; she ate fine, she wasn’t lethargic (not any more so than your normal newborn), she peed and pooped fine. Because of this, because she wasn’t really sick, because she was full-term, I felt out of place in the NICU.

I felt like some ancient Greek sailor washed ashore some strange, sad island.

While I nursed Teagan, while we brought in an outfit to take her home in, parents around us were learning how to use feeding tubes, bringing in pictures and blankets to cheer up the lonely isolettes. The parents didn’t talk much. The parent resource room was a stopping-by place to eat and drink, and not much more. Moms pumped next to the warmers or isolettes, dads dozed in the recliners next to them. I’d nod and smile to other moms if I passed by, bonded by our aching postpartum bodies and empty arms, but we were all so wrapped up in our own intense struggles that the effort to strike up casual conversation was too much. The only thing on our minds was our babies’ health, but that’s not the easiest way to break the ice: “So I heard the respiratory therapist had to come in three times last night for your kid?”

The NICU is full of contradictions, though, and despite the fact that I never talked with the other parents, I felt strangely bonded to all the babies on Teagan’s row. It’s unavoidable that, spending hours by your baby’s bedside, you will hear every agonizing and joyful detail of the journeys around you. The hospital even requires all parents to sign a HIPAA form for this reason.

Which is why I won’t write any of their names or conditions, even though their names and tiny faces, as I could see them through all the wires and tubes, are burned into my brain. Sometimes at night, when I’d drag my body into the hospital bed, I’d find myself praying for some of those other babies before I prayed for Teagan. Teagan had me there in the hospital. Those other babies had parents an hour away or teenage parents or a mom in the ICU. They were prayer magnets.

After I was discharged, I managed to snag a brand new room in the new NICU wing to board in while Teagan finished her treatment. The room was gorgeous, fantastic, and was even equipped with all the gizmos in the patient part of the NICU so that potentially your baby could room in with you (Teagan couldn’t). But compared to the constant noise of the NICU, with the monitors constantly alarming and the cries and the constant hum of chatter among the nurses, my room was uncomfortably quiet. Josh was at home with Noah, and I was alone. I ended up spending a lot of time napping in the recliner next to Teagan’s bed.

Time warped in strange ways. Sometimes my head would barely seem to hit the pillow before they called me back to nurse and sometimes I’d stare at the clock in the corner of her booth and swear that someone slowed it down. I’d forget to eat some days. Nights were interminable, pumping next to the warmer while I listened to the baby across the hall go bradycardic over and over again.

And I missed Noah. I missed his giant, tousled head, and his squeals, and falling asleep with his head resting in the crook of my arm. I just wanted to be home, where we could all be together for good.

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4 Responses

  1. I understand. My son was born at 35 weeks and we felt out of place, even though he had RDS and really needed the NICU. I felt bad for feeling bad, because my “bad” wasn’t as god-awful as the micropreemies down the hall.

    But 7 days is enough to make you hug your baby even tighter and be thankful for the true miracle of a healthy baby.

    • I know exactly what you mean about the micro-preemies–my husband rode in an elevator with the dad of a 23-weeker who weighed one pound, four ounces. Can you imagine?

  2. I will never forget how grateful I was that Jacob’s NICU room had a sign on the wall outside that read ‘Baby Boy Corpus.’ He wasn’t going to be there long enough to have his name posted. Jason and I said many prayers for the families who had their child’s first name on the wall outside their rooms.

    • That first name thing makes total sense–at our hospital, it was the isolettes that had blankets and pictures from home where you could tell. I remember in early December of last year, when Noah had his intussusception and we had to stay at Children’s Mercy, how we passed rooms on our floor where families had brought in Christmas lights and Christmas trees for their children. They were so sick that the parents knew they’d be there until Christmas, which was then a few weeks away.

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