(Click Here for the first part of Little Bear’s arrival)
One of the things that consistently made me tear up prior to Little Bear’s arrival was the fact that I wouldn’t get to hold him for who knew how long after he was born. I felt anticipatory that that would be the hardest part of the whole journey. However, when finally faced with my baby being delivered and immediately taken away, all I felt was relief. He was finally in the hands of those who could practically help and protect him. There was no more second guessing. No more wondering and worrying over the what if’s.
I was pushed through the halls to the other side of the hospital floor to the NICU. I still felt a little dizzy/loopy from my surgery, but I was aware enough to notice the people watching as I was wheeled to meet my son for the first time. We rolled into his room, and immediately the neonatologist introduced herself and started explaining what what going on. His room was a bustling hive of activity. I saw his dark hair first, and turned to Phil, saying “he had dark hair!” Even though this being had spent the past 7 1/2 months inside of me, and I had felt his presence so strongly from the moment I knew I was pregnant, I still felt like I was meeting a stranger. You carry a child inside of you, and you day dream about what they’ll look like. And then they’re born, they are earth side, and those little eyes, nose, mouth, hands, feet, all of a sudden they’re real. You can physically touch this little being and there’s a sense of having to reconnect a disconnected line. I watched, I observed and tried not to cry at the breathing tube down his throat. That was harder than not getting to hold him. They wheeled me as close to him as they could get. I was able to grab and touch his teeny tiny hand. He was perfect. He looked like a normal baby, but it was oh so hard to see his face hidden by a huge breathing tube and tape.
I had heard his cry the second he was born, but I wanted to hear him cry again. I wanted to hear him fight. I wanted to hear the strength I knew my Little Bear possessed. I was pushed back to my room a little while later as the nurses were getting him prepped for surgery. He would be going into surgery as soon as an OR was open. I felt a tension released within me. I knew my baby was in the best hands possible so I could focus on resting and healing. For the next three hours, I had a merry-go-round of specialists coming through my room to give me updates on Little Bear. If the specialist themselves couldn’t come, it was one of the nurses popping in to tell me an update. I was feeling more and more awake as the day progressed. It was one of those days that felt like it had been going on for a week. Especially considering I had woken up at midnight.
At 2pm that afternoon, I finally had just about full feeling back in my lower body and I was tired of just lying there. So I asked my nurse to help me get up. I wanted to pee on my own and I wanted to get my body settling into its new normal. So my catheter was removed, I slowly crawled out of bed, and stood up on my own. It felt good. I felt in control of myself, and I was ready to get this healing process started. An hour later, we got word that Little Bear was out of surgery. In fact the neurosurgeon himself came to give us an update. It was nothing but good news, in fact even better than I was expecting. He told us that he had been able to get an extra layer of skin over the incision which was something they usually couldn’t get on a baby as small as Little Bear. He said that Little Bear had remained completely stable during the entire surgery and was currently doing very well back in the NICU.
That was another huge thing I was able to release and breathe better about. My surgery was done. Little Bear had come yelling into the world. His surgery was done. And now it was a wait and see what he would do. How was he going to heal?
I asked my nurse to wheel me back over to the NICU to see him. He was tucked up in his bed on his stomach. I got to see the incision and it looked good. I had seen the cyst before his surgery and even though it had looked like someone had plopped half a tiny plum on his lower back, it hadn’t been disturbing. Now that the cyst was gone, his back looked even more normal. As he was still coming out of the sedatives, he didn’t react when I started talking to him and touching the parts of him I could that weren’t covered with wires. I still felt almost standoffish. This baby wasn’t my Little Bear, at least not yet. He hadn’t “woken” up yet. This was the holding period. I couldn’t see my baby entirely. His face was obscured with the breathing tube. The dark hairy fuzz that covered his back and his head was throwing me off too. This isn’t really something I wanted to admit. I knew he was my baby, but the connection I had had with him while he was in utero had shifted and hadn’t fallen back into place yet. My baby was so tiny. He was perfectly formed, but also so small and miniature lying there in his bed. My preemie didn’t look like a preemie with his ruddy skin and perfectly proportioned body.
Phil left a little bit later to go get Little Monkey and take him home. I was left at the hospital, there to spend the next four nights admitted with strict instructions to heal. Things started hitting an hour later. I felt the flood starting; the panic from that morning finally catching up, the exhaustion of having to hold it together long enough for my son to be delivered safely into the world, and an overwhelming sense of relief I wasn’t quite ready to acknowledge. I was trying to keep the tears from overwhelming me especially since no one was there with me. Just as I was trying to climb back into bed, my night nurse came in to introduce herself. This woman was amazing. She saw right away I was crying and asked if she could give me a hug. I lost it then and could only nod. She hugged me tightly, promising nothing but hugs if I needed them. She knew what had gone down that morning from my chart, but also acknowledged that I was fully in the right to break down! Darcey became my favorite nurse during my stay. I somehow had her for three of the four nights I was admitted at the hospital. Once I could breathe a little easier, she went through vitals with me, and of course the dreaded belly “massage.” I couldn’t sleep that night, my body, my mind, my heart were all too full and overwhelmed that night. I finally called Darcey in and asked her to take me down to the NICU at 3am in the morning. I just needed to know Little Bear was okay, so she happily obliged and wheeled me over to his room in a wheelchair. His night nurse gave me a full update and said that he seemed to be resting comfortably.
As soon as I had eaten breakfast and taken my meds, I asked to be wheeled back over to the NICU. I had been told right as I finished breakfast that Little Bear had been taken off the ventilator and his breathing tube had been removed! I was so anxious to go see him, I wanted to be able to actually see his face. I needed to find my baby, I need to see who he was. I had started pumping the night before, as I wanted to get a jump start with getting my milk to come in. Because of pumping I had already been able to get a few milliliters of colostrum. Little Bear’s nurses wanted me to do what they call “oral care” with the milk. That meant I dipped a swab into the milk and rubbed it around his mouth and tongue. He was starting to wake up more compared to the night before. One of the things the neonatologist told me as I showed up at his room was that babies this young often can’t figure out sucking/eating via mouth until they’re a little earlier. So imagine my happy surprise when Little Bear started reacting to the colostrum and trying to suck/lick the milk off the swab. He was getting antsy with being on his stomach and so we decided to try a pacifier. He took that small purple paci immediately and started sucking on it like there was no tomorrow. Tears pricked the corners of my eyes because in that morning I knew he had never stopped fighting. This little bear was going to prove everyone wrong.
I left to go take a nap in my room and rest. But I had plans to come back again to see my baby. Later that evening when I did go see him, they told me that he was getting angry about being on his tummy. And when they meant angry, he would start complaining and then pushing his butt up in the air, which would then push off his diaper and he would pee on anyone who tried to fix it. He certainly wasn’t going to make it easy for his nurses. His eyes were still pretty swollen from birth and from his surgery, but he had started trying to open them. It was beginning to feel like every time I left and then came back, he had changed. The changes were small, some more drastic, but I could see a difference every time I stood by his side. My Little Bear was waking up, and it was a glorious thing to watch. I could see his personality, the personality I had connected with while he resided inside of me, starting to show forth. This baby was a fighter and he wasn’t going to quit.
By the time the required 48 hours had passed after his surgery, they flipped him over on to his back and they removed the line that was in his belly button. That meant that more than half the wires and ports surrounding him in bed were now gone. “Do you want to hold him?” the nurses suddenly asked me. The moment I had been waiting for was finally here. I had found it surprisingly easy to be okay with not having held him up to this point. My tiny infant, the one with all of the wires coming off of him, a big iv in his right hand, this tiny infant was being placed in my lap. He felt like holding a feather who tried to grip my thumb. “You can try to breastfeed too!” Hesitantly I tried to see if he was interested, and he latched on right away. Little Bear was too tired to do much sucking, but he knew what to do and I was hopeful we would get this part of being mama and baby figured out.
The next day, they started him on donor milk as my milk was still coming in. The nurses kept me updated with precision any time I was in his room. They told me happily that he had kept down his first full feed with no issues at all! By the next day, they had tripled the amount of food he was getting. And still, he did well. I got to give him a sponge bath that day. That was also the day I walked in and did a double take when I realized that his hand was finally free of the IV! Most babies’ IVs don’t last more than a day, sometimes only an hour. His lasted three days and with him doing so well, keeping his feeds down, they decided to up the amount of milk he was getting even more. This meant that his IV wouldn’t come back. With each day that passed, I watched and more and more wires and tubes have been removed.
I will continue part three when I get a chance next!