With every bump in the road, my hands locked on the edges of the seat below me, elbows secure, torso tense. Willing itself not to be bounced to the left or the right. Even the most slight of movements sent my incision into a fiery burn.
“I know it’s good and I’m grateful they let me go early, but I don’t feel well enough to be out of the hospital.”
My husband looked at me like he was wondering if we’d made a mistake in our rush.
I went on to assure him that I’d be fine. I had my pills next to me, and lips that eagerly pleaded for strength. I’ll be fine.
The fifty-five minute drive eventually ended, and we rounded the corner into the parking lot. My husband had told me she was on the fourth floor. I counted the windows up, and locked onto her approximate whereabouts. My girl was right there.
I’m coming, sweetheart.
We pulled up to the entrance, and spotted the wheelchairs lined up just inside the doors. My husband put the car in park, raced to grab one, and returned to assist me out of my seat and into that one. He placed the Boppy pillow on my lap and wrapped my bag around the handles behind me and rolled me in. He went to park and I waited in the air conditioned lobby.
He parked in record speed to return to me and we headed up to the fourth floor. When we reached the NICU sign-in area, they notified us of the time.
Visiting hours were temporarily over. They would resume again at 8pm.
Hungry after hurrying to get down to her, we headed to the cafeteria. I was hesitant to eat too much or eat the wrong thing for fear that it would upset my stomach. I wanted nothing getting in the way of my time with my girl. I chose yogurt and fresh fruit, and we enjoyed a simple meal together as we waited for the clock to tick.
We headed back up to the NICU around 7:45 so we’d have time to use the restroom before going in. That’s when I realized that all my life, I had taken for granted the fact that my body was so easily capable of the most basic of functions, that now seemed embarrassingly impossible. It was as if the incision sliced through all connection of my brain to my bladder. I could not make myself go.
And as I sat there, frustrated at my body’s refusal, I read the poster that hung before me.
10 Tips for Successful Breastfeeding.
Ah. Breastfeeding. It was the final token of motherhood I was counting on with Abigail, and that I missed out on through our adopting Sweet Pea. It was my goal to feed her for the first year, and prior to her arrival, I was insistent on having her placed at my breast immediately after birth. Husband and I had even sat through a three-hour class learning all the aspects that I’m sure this poster was about to recap for me.
Numbers 1-3 applied to the hospital. Then came the personal ones.
#4. Help mothers initiate breastfeeding within one half hour of birth.
Great. I wondered if they’d given her to me and let our skins touch if perhaps she wouldn’t even be here in this hospital. I’d heard stories of how all the medical intervention, though often necessary, sometimes could have been prevented had the babe been allowed bonding time with mom. Annoyed at the thought, I read on.
#5. Show mothers how to breastfeed, and how to maintain lactation even if they should be separated from their infants.
Obviously I hadn’t had the chance to try feeding her yet, but had anybody at the other hospital offered me a pump or guidance on what to do after we’d been separated? No. I hadn’t really had much a chance to realize that until now. I kept reading.
#6. Give newborn infants no food or drink other than breast milk, unless medically indicated.
Surely she’d been given something.
#7. Practice rooming-in- that is, allow mothers and infants to remain together – 24 hours a day.
#8. Give no artificial nipples (bottles) or pacifiers to breastfeeding infants.
My husband had showed me a picture of her sucking a large green pacifier. While I was grateful she was being soothed by it, I now wanted to tear the poster off the wall.
It seemed as though my dream of breastfeeding was going down the drain. And with her being here at this hospital for who knows how long, I didn’t know really how to even go about trying.
Eventually we made it back to the sign-in area. After leaving our signatures, my husband helped me into the scrub-up room, where we scrubbed our hands and arms with soap clear up to our elbows. We even had to use a foot pedal to operate the faucet. No chance at germs.
Once we were deemed clean we made our way to her room. As we neared I noticed that there was a large sign outside the entrance, and amongst a list of last names, ours was third down. The familiarity of our name on something so unfamiliar to me felt dreamlike, and made this whole experience a little more concrete.
We stepped inside, and lining the walls were about four beds on each side. Some had parents eagerly surrounding them, others were being tended to by the nurses, and others just laid there alone, being warmed by the lamp above them.
“Which one is she?”
Flashback to yesterday, and again how wrong it felt that I’d even have to ask. I should know my girl. But I couldn’t see any obvious labeling and all the babes were swaddled the same.
I was clenching my husbands arm, relying on him to help me walk. And he led me to the third bed on the left. She was lying all alone, though looked peaceful, just quietly sucking away at that paci. That dang paci. Forget it, Steph. Forget the poster. Focus on your girl.
She looked much like she did when I held her the morning before. Wires, tubes, hands taped with IV’s. But through it all, she was beautiful.
I braced myself on the edge of her bed, the six-inch high glass digging into my arms as I tried to get a closer look. The nurse then notified us that she was due for a diaper change, and my husband eagerly agreed to do it.
As I watched him slowly unswaddle her, careful to not tug on any of the wires, and then gently pull back her newborn diaper that still needed to be folded down because it was still too big, a surge of emotion coursed through me. This man had surely proven his amazing daddy capabilities the past 2 1/2 years with Sweet Pea, but this, here, felt new. Watching him tenderly move his fingers around her delicate little limbs, carefully pouring out his love and care onto his newest little princess, caught me off guard. I couldn’t imagine loving him any more in that moment.
And the teeny little limbs he carefully guided through the process, so raw and new, hit me in a way I wasn’t expecting either. I hadn’t seen the rawness of her just-born skin yet. The only time I’d had with her she’d been swaddled up, neck to toe. As he cleaned her, and wrapped the fresh diaper around her, I couldn’t stop staring at her pink little chubby-less thighs. She was so perfect.
When he was finished, I backed a few steps and eased down into a rocking chair that the nurse had brought for me. I couldn’t wait to hold her again, but had no confidence that I’d be able to bend over her bed to pick her up myself, so the nurse navigated the wires as I prepared the boppy across my lap. She gently laid her in my arms.
“I’m here,” I whispered, and kissed her head. My husband pulled out his phone and took a picture. We were together again. Then the nurse scolded him for touching his phone, one of the germiest things one can touch, apparently, and insisted he wash his hands immediately at the sink just to the right of us. He did, apologizing for not knowing this “no phones” rule, and smiled at me. He knew he’d be washing his hands several more times. I would be getting pictures of my girl.
The nurse asked if I’d like to try to feed her, and she handed me a bottle. Dang bottle. But I took it, and she helped me position her on her side so she wouldn’t choke as she drank. She suckled it out like a pig to its momma, and I gently stroked her head with my thumb, while the rest of my palm cradled her head, her back firm against my lower arm.
I could only hold her for a few minutes before I needed a break. Guilt coursed through me that I wasn’t physically up for holding her longer, or navigating what might need to happen to have some skin-to-skin time. My heart longed for it, but my body desperately wanted rest. Maybe tomorrow.
The nurse handed me two small squares of fabric, and told me to stick one in my bra. I was to place it next to Abigail before I left so she’d be able to smell me. The other was for me to take home to collect more mommy scent to leave with her next time.
A few minutes later, the night doctor came to talk to us.
“So, the x-rays here verify that she does have pneumothorax. She has several air pockets trapped between her lungs and chest cavity. One is close to her heart. That’s what made her breathing erratic, but for now she is stable. We don’t want her crying or getting worked up, which could make it worse. So we are doing our best to keep her calm.” I appreciated the thought that they wouldn’t let her cry. My heart relaxed a little. “We think they may go away on their own, we are going to take x-rays again tomorrow to compare. Then we can see where we need to go from there.”
We were told to take it day-by-day.
We kissed our girl, content to end this one, and began our trek back home.
As the miles passed by, and our conversation naturally gave way to quiet as the weight of our minds and exhaustion set it, it hit me that I was now going “home” for the first time since having her, and she was not coming with me. This isn’t right.
She belonged with me.
Continue reading the story here.