It was over.
Our baby boy had arrived.
No more wondering when we'd be induced, if he was growing well enough, or what was happening, period.
Now it was time to face the other side.
He had arrived and he needed help.
When I was finally wheeled into his private room in the NICU, the confusion, pain and sheer terror of the past two months hit me full force.
There were machines everywhere. Monitors were going off. I couldn't even see him through everything that was attached to him in one way or another.
The tears poured and I couldn't stop them and I didn't want to.
Why hadn't I been able to help him?
Why had my body failed?
Why had I failed him?
And now, he was stuck in this clear box, attached to wires and monitors, with a whole team around him and I was a spectator.
I, who had done my best, who had carried him for 37 weeks 1 day, who had just given birth.
I can't describe that pain.
I had been separated from him for two hours. The nurses and M had a routine down. They were sharing information and he knew exactly what syringes to pass over and what he was doing.
And I was sitting in a wheelchair, on the edge of the action, numb, thanks to the late onset of the epidural, and useless.
So I cried.
After a few minutes, everyone noticed and asked me if I wanted to hold my baby.
I couldn't even speak and I didn't feel worthy, but I nodded.
They opened the isolette and this tiny bundle of blankets, with a handful of wires dragging on the floor beneath him, was placed on my chest.
I said hi, and told him I was his Mommy.
And as the tears poured down onto him, he looked up at me. In that moment I knew that he was stronger than I'd ever be. Those eyes, the mischief and love and strength in those eyes, it was clear as day.
The NICU sucks. I could use a hundred more eloquent words, I could go on and on about the quality of care and how lucky we were to have it, but I don't want to.
Because the NICU sucks.
My dreams of Y running into my hospital room to meet his brother had been unceremoniously slashed. No visitors, no walking through the hall with the new baby, no quietly staring at him preparing to go home.
Instead there were rounds and specialists. Heel pricks and medication. IVs, monitors, wires and hand washing. So much hand washing.
And then he started choking. And I begged, I begged to switch places. That whatever he was going through I would take it. I would take it times a million and I would not complain.
But it doesn't work that way.
In went the tube and out came the air and everything he had been trying to get out. In went IV's and in came the specialists. Arguing right in front of us about what to do.
Let me tell you, when you're lost, when your baby is struggling and when doctors STILL can't get on the same page, Mama Bear comes out.
Forget that I was numb, forget that I had given birth two hours ago. It was done.
Mama Bear had arrived.
I somehow stood up and spoke up. I got my strength from my baby boy and I knew I could do this. As that day went on I made myself heard. I asked questions at rounds, I stood at that incubator and insisted I did as much as I was allowed. When everyone would leave I'd open his little isolette door and I'd hold his hand. I'd run upstairs to have my vitals checked every few hours and then return right to his side. I walked the halls and no one would have ever known I had just delivered. I cried and didn't even know I was crying through most of that day. My postpartum "healing" lasted approximately two and a half hours and then I was up and dressed and ready to do my part.
Because that's the NICU.
By the way, any doctors out there reading this, here's something you don't want to do, FYI... When a NICU Mom leaves her baby for 15 minutes to get vitals checked and eat an apple she's being forced to eat since she hasn't eaten in 24 hours and that apple is taking precious minutes away from being with her baby, you don't walk into the room and loudly announce, "I have bad news."
The thoughts that ran through my head...
Turns out the "bad news" was that there was an emergency and our baby had to be transferred to another hospital because he was deemed one of the most stable.
Let's just say that doctor didn't deliver any more news or even whisper one more word to me for the rest of our time in that hospital.
I made it very clear that I wouldn't be staying and allow my baby to be discharged alone, so after a lot of confusion and one more check of vitals, I signed whatever I needed to and was on my way. I remember walking behind N's stretcher through the halls of the hospital. I remember sobbing, and whispering that his first carride shouldn't be in a transport ambulance. I remember the looks of the people in the hospital foyer, whispering and staring at the incubator strapped to a stretcher.
I remember M driving slowly behind the ambulance, and my heart in my throat the entire time.
We arrived a few minutes before N did. I walked into our new NICU and I'll be honest... I wasn't happy. We were now in a large room, with over 20 incubators, a handful of nurses walking around and zero privacy. We had come from a private room with our own nurse around the clock. I was scared that his care was being compromised. I recognized that there was an emergency and another baby needed his private room, but my baby needed it too.
I was wrong. And I've never been happier to be wrong.
Our new NICU was the greatest thing that could have happened to us given the situation. From the minute we walked in, we weren't spectators anymore. Even though it was 11:23pm, our nurse was full of love and energy. She offered to let me take N's temperature. She showed me how to change his diaper through two small holes in the isolette. And every time she addressed me, it was, "Mom." For the first time, medical staff recognized me as his Mom! They let me be in charge of my baby as much as I could be.
And they were amazing. They walked me through everything. They taught me the medical jargon and in a day I was holding N's chart and could understand it perfectly.
And then they told me I had to go home. The second full day there, I had noticed that by the time evening rounds came, the parents would leave. They were kind enough to give me a rocking chair that first night to stay by his side, but then they insisted I went home, showered and slept.
After hours of back and forth, I stood up, placed my hand on our little boy's head, whispered our little pep talk phrase to him, and closed the isolette door.
I sobbed through the hallway, and down the elevator. I screamed in the parking lot, when I saw his car seat in the car, empty.
I had a 15 month old at home who needed me. I couldn't stay and they didn't want me to. I knew he was safe and taken care of and that I would be back in a few hours for morning rounds, but that day I physically felt the pain of my heart being torn. Half of it was in the hospital, a hospital that was a 40 minute drive away, and the other half was at my parents' house, with no semblance of normalcy and waiting for his Mommy too.
Speaking of, our incredible 15 month old. He handled everything beautifully. Even though he spent almost 2 weeks napping in hospital hallways, or having lunch with Daddy at the Eaton Centre and dinner with Mommy in Yonge Dundas Square, he smiled, he enjoyed all the bonus Paw Patrol and he stepped into his role of big brother, seamlessly.
During the NICU experience I was pulled in a thousand directions. I would get home in the evenings so exhausted I couldn't think. I would call our baby's nurse throughout the night when I'd wake up because my body was telling me it was time for a feeding. I'd celebrate on the phone with the nurse when she'd tell me that he took 50cc or when she told me his umbilical cord fell out or that he'd had a great bath. And then I'd hang up and sob. Because I was his Mom. I was supposed to be there doing those things, experiencing those things.
I sat there day after day, doing shifts with M so we could both spend time with our baby. I sat there watching other babies be admitted for a few days and then discharged and hated and was ashamed of the jealousy I felt. I stopped saying the, "H" word. It was hard to watch the nurses redirect their eyes the first few times I asked when they thought we'd be going home. The first hospital had given estimates between a couple of days and over a month. Here they'd just say the same thing, "he's very small..."
So I stopped asking. I put all of my love and energy into those days. Some days were great and I'd keep it together until I got to the elevators. Then I'd put on my sunglasses and cry all the way to the car. Other days I'd cry at the isolette when a random doctor would show up and causally say, "just here to do an ultrasound and check for any brain bleeds."
I can't say enough about the nurses. They'd make M & I laugh, actually laugh. They'd pull up a rocking chair on their break and sit there and talk to us about the world outside, a world I was angry at, that just kept spinning. They would tell me about their kids and their experiences. They'd tell me I had a feisty baby and that he was doing great. They'd tell us we were doing great. They took care of our heart and they did it so gracefully and with such sensitivity. They'd meet me at the door and excitedly rush me over to our baby, to show me how they'd put him in an, "I love my Mommy," onesie. They made it okay.
At this point, I also absolutely need to mention my husband's cousin (someone I had never met or spoken to, someone who lives on the other side of the world) who changed that NICU experience
for M & I. She gave us hope, advice, and a sense of understanding that touched us so deeply and carried us through our time in the NICU. I still go back and read her initial messages, reaching out, full of advice I still hang on to. She is one of the ultimate examples of strength and courage, and even though we still haven't met, I consider her both a hero and a great friend.
And then the day came...
I walked into the NICU and couldn't find his isolette and subsequently couldn't find my breath. And then I looked a little closer and realized our baby was laying in a bassinet, on room air, attempting to regulate his temperature and successfully doing so. The first step to going home! Still no one said the H word, but later that day it was suggested I bring in the car seat to run his car seat probe. I called M immediately and we both knew this was the step we needed to get him disconnected from all monitors and IV's. Within a couple of hours M had arrived with the car seat and the next day they ran the probe. I had to leave in the middle, I couldn't watch the numbers fluctuating, that if 89 appeared on the screen it would mean he wasn't sufficiently maintaining his oxygen in his car seat and couldn't go home yet. An hour later I got the message from M on my phone...
"He did it!"
No more wires, no more monitors! The next morning for the first time since he was born, we held our baby and just our baby.
We were set to go home Sunday.
I'm so grateful to my parents, that they gave us the ability to stay in a hotel near his hospital for Shabbos. I couldn't fathom leaving him for 25 hours, so for two weeks I'd go for Shabbos morning, go back and join M & Y for Shabbos lunch in our hotel room and then M would join him for the afternoon. Sunday morning we woke up super early, laid out his coming home outfit (that I had actually brought with me everyday to the hospital) and got ready to bring our baby home.
Turns out the preemie outfit was way too big, but nothing could put a damper on that day. We dressed him and took pictures, collected everything we had kept in the hospital, filled out forms, made follow-up appointments, put our baby in his car seat, all 4lbs of him now, and made our way to the NICU doors.
That's when I heard the Mom next to our now empty isolette tell her baby boy, "one day you're going to be big like him."
"Big" like our 4lb baby.
I will always remember that whisper.
It will always take me back to that room, the buzzing and humming, the lights and hand washing and rounds.