The last two weeks have been a whirlwind. I’m sitting here writing listening to the soundtrack of my breast pump churning and wheezing and the little peanut is across the room cooing in her Rock N’ Play (which has been a Godsend since this child won’t sleep in many other places). I’m hoping that her little chirps are just indicators of sweet dreams and not the signs of her waking as I’m not even close to being done everything I intended to work on this afternoon.
When you have a newborn.
I mean, I knew that. People told me that. But – I still thought my child might be different.
I can’t believe she has been out of my body for more than two weeks. Three weeks ago, I would have struggled to recall what life was like before my big belly. I didn’t remember what it was like to be able to paint my toenails, or shave in the shower, sleep on my stomach, or savor the rich taste of a glass of merlot. Now I’m struggling to recall what those tiny kicks felt like, or the weekly drives to the doctor’s office for my nonstress tests, or the round fullness of my pregnant belly.
I miss it SO much, sometimes.
Don’t get me wrong: I love that she is lying across from me. I love her tiny noises, the way her mouth curls up into a smile randomly (and then uncurls just as I grab my phone to take a picture), or the way she purses her lips with milk dripping from the corners when I pull her away from my breast.
I love how she wags her head and shakes her fists when she doesn’t get food fast enough: it’s like she is already demanding a space for herself in the world…asserting her needs…helping me to understand life on her terms.
But its not the same as when she was inside. She’ll never be as safe and secure. I’ll never be quite as full of life. We’ll never be physically connected ever again. And that made me just a little sad when it all finally set in.
The first night home from the hospital was hard.
Well, the hospital itself was hard.
Hadley was born at 7am, and I didn’t get to hold her until about 6pm that evening (I think…everything was a blur at that point due to the sheer exhaustion of having been awake for almost two days straight with short cat naps in between). They wheeled me in to see her in the NICU for the first time around 9am, I think. I watched her through the glass dome of her incubator and was only able to hold her hand and push her pacifier back in when she began to cry (which made ME cry). The soundtrack of our first official meeting was the bubbling noise of her CPAP machine, and all of the beeps from the monitors she was hooked up to. She had a tiny bruise on one hand from where they tried to insert an IV but failed (and she had one to match on the other hand once they finally removed her IV).
I asked if I could hold her and the NICU nurse scolded me: reminding me that she needed that time in the incubator and that the doctor would tell me when I could hold her.
That was so hard. She was MINE – just mine – for nine months. I knew her rhythmic kicks and she knew my heartbeat. And all of the sudden she belonged to a NICU nurse and I was simply a visitor.
I had a really tough time with that entire experience. I felt like I didnt know my child when she came home from the hospital and it hit me like a ton of bricks when I finally considered how traumatic her departure from me was after her birth.
My labor was so fast and intense and she came rocketing into this world quicker than I had a chance to process. Then she was whirled away to be measured and assessed while I delivered the placenta and got stitched up.
I was so bone tired that I didnt really process what was happening:
That we didn’t get to delay her cord clamping to give her a few extra minutes to build up her iron supply.
We didnt get skin-to-skin right away to give us a chance to bond and get to know each other.
I didnt get to feed her right away to help us bond and help my milk supply to come in faster.
I really didn’t “meet” my daughter until much later.
I joked that they could have taken my baby and given me back another and I wouldnt have known the difference.
That sounds horrible, doesn’t it? What mother doesn’t instinctively know her baby. But I felt like I didn’t. And that made me very sad.
I know everything was done in her best interest. I know she is healthy and more importantly – alive – because of the efforts of that medical staff. But it was still hard and emotional.
Before she was released from the NICU, I was able to see her four more times. That evening around 6 they allowed me to feed her after a lactation consultant visited me in my room earlier in the day for a lesson on breast feeding and pumping (thank God for that woman because breastfeeding is harder than it looks….more on that, later).
We went back with both sets of our parents later that night and again in the middle of the night to breastfeed. We went back for one final visit the following morning to feed her and give her a bath. I thought I knew how to bath a baby, but apparently there was more to it than I knew (like: wash the face first and dont use the same part of the cloth to wipe their eyes twice).
Around 4pm that next day (Sunday as I would later learn…what a blur of a stay) they brought her back to my room. She was all bundled up in the standard hospital blanket with a purple knit hat. I still wonder who made that – it gave me some comfort that she was adorned with something cozy and personal during part of her NICU stay.
They let us know that night that her bilirubin levels were high (which means that she had some jaundice) and they recommended phototherapy which commenced on Monday and earned us an extra day in the hospital. Fortunately, they allowed us to “room in” with Hadley so we didnt have to leave her and we were all able to go home together on Tuesday.
If you’ve never experienced phototherapy for a newborn: it looks cool but is actually torture. She had to lay on the equivalent of a bright tanning bed with foam goggles and she had to be naked (sans a diaper) and be swaddled down to the surface of the light board.
She hated it and cried hysterically all day, which led to us frequently picking her up to feed and comfort her which led to an extra 12 hours with the light when they came to re-test her later that night. In the middle of the night she was pretty much over the whole ordeal and cried hysterically at which point I said, “screw it” and swaddled her (against the rules since her swaddled skin wasnt exposed to the light). She slept soundly for two hours at which point I woke up in a sweat, terrified that I hadn’t heard her in two hours (the longest we’d gone with silence before that on the light treatment was about 20 minutes) and I was to find her not breathing. Both she and my wife (who was sleeping on a cot next to her) were sound asleep. Evidently the swaddle session helped her to reset and I was able to get her to sleep for the rest of the night without any major issues. No more two hour stretches but I think she slept for an hour at a time which was great.
I was super nervous for her morning blood test after basically removing her from the light for two hours, but I wasnt torturing the kid any more than she needed to be: we all needed that sleep and she desperately needed that comfort after the rough start to her life.
Fortunately she passed both that as well as the following blood test and we were discharged that afternoon.
That Monday (the day of the phototherapy) was HARD. I didnt leave the room all day and it rained so it just left me feeling very down. It was also tough because we had almost hourly checks from various hospital staff throughout our weekend stay, but that stopped on Monday when I was discharged and just “roomed in” with my daughter. The peace was nice, but when you have a newborn (especially a sick one) it is nice to just talk to other people. It helped me maintain sanity and normalcy: even though I didn’t know any of the staff particularly well.
When I got home from the hospital I cried a lot the first few days. I thought I would transition gracefully into motherhood: I’ve wanted this my ENTIRE life. But everything made me cry. Signs of my pregnancy like the big U-shaped pillow on the bed that had been my best friend for the prior two months. Or the look of my deflated belly in the bathroom mirror complete with stretch marks that I hadn’t really seen as they were on the underside of my belly prior to Hadley’s birth. It looked like a basketball that had been used too hard in its final game and was now deflated – sitting on the sidelines.
Even the sight of Hadley’s bedroom made me sad. We decorated it in hopeful anticipation and having her home was so scary: I didnt know what she wanted or needed in those first few days, and everything was so overwhelming.
I also wasnt making enough for her to eat which was nerve wracking, and likely was related to the fact that I didnt feed her for the first 12 hours of her life. I’m still struggling with breastfeeding, but I think that warrants it’s own blog entry.
Despite all of these challenges and the hecticness with which her life started, the love I feel for this child is indescribable. Even though I get so overwhelmed when she cries (mostly because I never truly know the reason), I know that the reasons are so basic: food, sleep (or lack thereof) and comfort. That’s basically it. She is so innocent and full of possibility and hope and I want to keep that alive in her forever. I want to meet any need that she ever has before she has it. I want her to see the world as beautiful, and kind, and loving. I want to ensure that she never knows hunger or pain or heartache. I want to wrap her in my love every day for the rest of her life.
I guess that’s what being a parent is, right? Loving and supporting your child through everything, and taking the bad moments on the chin: knowing there are more good ones to come.
If that’s not it: let me know when you figure out the secret, will you? 😊
In the interim: some pictures of our little love: