Once Chris was settled, Xander was asleep at my breast, and we thought it would be a good time to try to sleep (since I kept falling asleep anyway). But of course, as soon as I would put baby Xander into his bassinet he would wake up and cry. So I would pick him up and he would cry and cry until he was back on my breast. Then he would fall asleep either using me as a pacifier or just lying next to me, still in a breastfeeding "football" position (off to my side with his feet towards my back). This went on all night. Chris and I were terrified to fall asleep with him in bed with me. My nipples were getting really raw and sore. Chris would try to take him and soothe him. We were determined to not use a pacifier. All 3 of us cried at one point or another in pure frustration. I knew my baby was tired, but he wouldn't sleep anywhere but on my boob. This of course made me think a million things at once. Can we handle this? Will it always be like this? Does he have colic? Is it gas? What am I doing wrong?! You know, typical first time parent freak-outs.
Around 8 am the next morning, a doctor came in to check on Xander. The nurse that checked on us the night before noticed he was still breathing a bit fast when she took his stats.The doctor said he seemed okay, he was just breathing a little fast. He didn't seem super concerned, so neither were we. I ordered breakfast after that - ready for visitors and a full day of no sleep again. My mother-in-law came and kept Xander company for a while and let me sleep for an hour or 2 and Chris went home for the first time in 3 days to shower and change his clothes. We had more visitors that day. My dad and step-mom and my sister all came to see us. The woman who was encapsulating my placenta also came.
|Baby: Day 1|
A couple hours later, the doctor that checked him out the previous morning came in. I can't remember if he woke me up or not. He told Chris and I that Xander's breathing had still not improved and he was growing concerned that he had swallowed some of the meconium in his fluid when he came out. He also speculated that it might have been because of my only 20 minutes of pushing, he may not have had sufficient compression of his lungs to push all the fluid out. Either way, he told me he sent my baby to the NICU for some tests. My heart broke into a million tiny pieces. The doctor said he was okay, but he wanted to be safe. He said a nurse would tell us when we could go see him and my heart broke into a million more tiny pieces.
As soon as he left, I started to bawl. The guilt I felt this morning for letting him to go the nursery to sleep had just quadrupled because now my baby was in the NICU and I wasn't there to comfort him, to say goodbye, to say I loved him...nothing. I felt utterly lost and helpless. I cannot imagine what other people who have babies in the NICU for more serious reasons go through because I was dying inside. The nurse on the shift change came in to talk to us and comfort us. She was very sweet and helpful. Every hour, we called the nurse to ask her what was going on and when we could see Xander. They got me a breast pump because they knew I did not want him on formula. We had to wait 3-4 agonizing hours before we could go see our baby. I was still shaky on my feet, so Chris wheeled me into the NICU. I cried the entire way there.
Then, I saw my little baby. Under a warming...thing, in only a diaper, with oxygen on and an IV in his little arm, sleeping. (I found out later that his IV fluids had some type of nutritional value in it that made him not hungry.) Chris and I were both a mess. I didn't know how much more I could handle at this point. We met the NICU doctor, a nice man from Africa, who's name I still cannot spell or pronounce. He said Xander's x-rays did show a bit of fluid still in his lungs. They had to start antibiotics immediately. The NICU team was truly amazing. They were very sympathetic and reassuring. They said we could come and go whenever we wanted. We could have 3 visitors at a time. Honestly, this entire day is a bit of blur still. It all seemed to happen so fast and not seem real. My baby was fine just yesterday and now I am a NICU parent. How does that happen?
We went back to our room because I needed to eat and learn how to use my breast pump. Even though Xander didn't need to eat right now, they wanted me to get my milk to come in so I could feed him. I told my family and friends what was going on. I asked my mom to come because I needed her terribly. I asked other people to not come until we knew more of what was going on. I also found out that even though I would be discharged on Wednesday, they got a complimentary NICU parent room for me so I could say in the hospital for as long as Xander was there (unless someone with a more serious problem came). This was a true blessing! I didn't have to go home and worry about my baby. If i wanted to see him, I could just walk down the hall. I will be forever grateful for Methodist Hospital for the amazing hospitality during the entire time I was there.
Later that day, they agreed to let me do skin to skin and breastfeed. They turned down Xander's IV fluids so he would be awake and hungry enough to eat. Seeing him in his little incubator with an IV line in his arm and oxygen on his face was the most upsetting thing I have ever experienced in my life. It breaks my heart over and over again every time I think about it. I tried my best to keep it together, but I still cried constantly. Guilt, sadness, fear, pain, emptiness - I felt it all...all at once. But when they put him on my chest and buttoned my shirt around him, I cried again - this time out of happiness. I finally felt complete again. I had my baby in my arms. I ignored the stupid cords and wires and tried to be okay with the oxygen smushed on his little face and I just enjoyed my baby.
|This is the best feeling ever.|
So. NICU plan. Since they were letting me breastfeed, I would come ever 2-4 hours to feed him or the nurses would call me if he was hungry and I wasn't there. They all knew I did not want him to have a pacifier except for when doing things that hurt him (needle sticks, etc.). By the next day, his breathing was already improved and he got the okay to take off his oxygen. He still had to get another 24 hours of his antibiotics though. Now that he was a NICU baby, he had to reach certain milestones before he could go home. Steady oxygen levels, all of his medicine, eating so much a day, peeing and pooing so much a day. I was now a mother on a mission.
|My little Cabbage Patch Kid, all puffy from IV fluids|
My mom and I spent most of our time in the NICU. I only left to eat and sleep. All of the parents and nurses in the NICU were always commenting how big Xander was compared to the other babies there. It was true. My baby didn't look like a normal NICU baby. Most of those babies were a lot sicker than mine. I felt very fortunate for that reason. It could be a lot worse, and I constantly reminded myself of that. No one treated us differently though. Chris spent his time going back and forth. He doesn't like hospitals in the first place. He came and went, having a hard time seeing Xander like he was. So instead, Chris focused on super cleaning our house and getting it ready for Xander's homecoming...whenever that might be.
Every morning, my mom and I were in the NICU by 9 am for the doctor's rounds. We were always present when they would talk about Xander's progress, his goals for the day, and the treatment plan. I took notes on my phone to share with everyone else and so I knew what we needed to achieve. The doctor was very impressed the morning after letting him eat when the nurse said "breast fed for 30 minutes each side every 3 hours. 9 pee diapers, and 6 poos". This guy knew I meant business and I wanted my baby the heck out of the NICU. I don't mess around or do stuff half-assed!
Finally, on Thursday, they let me take Xander back to my hospitality room (aka an unused, older, labor and delivery room) so he could spend the night on no machines and see how he did. I had to note every feed, every diaper, and take his temperature regularly. I was totally cool with that. Anything to have my baby next to me. I put Xander in a sleep shirt we brought from home with a cow on it...because I have a slight thing for cows. He looked adorable in real baby clothes and finally no cords! I was thrilled. We were one step closer to going home! As evening got closer, Xander got more agitated, unfortunately. He went right back to only wanting to be at my breast. That's the only place he was happy. I was so upset I couldn't eat anything. What is wrong? What am I doing wrong?! That night, after crying in the shower as my mom consoled my crying baby; after singing him songs I was playing on my phone (Backstreet Boys if you're curious!), and after leaving the room to cry alone int he hallway, a nurse saw me and reassured me again this was all normal and babies do this. I finally broke down and asked for a stupid pacifier*.
The nurse wrapped Xander up tightly in his blanket and stuck that little green pacifier in his mouth...and he finally fell asleep. I was relieved, but I felt totally defeated. I slept as good as a new mom can sleep (what with waking up at every sound he made, or waking up when he didn't make a sound to make sure he was still breathing). The next day, we waited anxiously for the NICU doctor to do a final assessment of Xander. We got many hospital visitors (amazing lactation consultants, discharge people, nurses). After what seemed like forever (3 hours) Xander was cleared to go home around 11 am on Friday morning. After 6 long days in the hospital, Xander and I were finally going home!
|The Ref, happy to get cleared to go home!|
|Going home in his too-big outfit|
Since we had a NICU baby, we got a lot of extra care. They helped us set up his first doctor appointment, which had to be the following Monday to get his oxygen levels checked. We also were going to get weekly home visits from a nurse from the Health Department. This actually made me feel a lot better. We were thrilled to go home, but nervous too. Chris had to leave after we took Xander home for the entire weekend. It was just going to be me and Xander for his first 3 days home. Thankfully, my mother-in-law was there to help me! If not for her, I probably would not have eaten at all.
That first weekend was such a blur. It was mostly feedings and fighting sleep, and falling asleep sitting up, and waking up every few minutes when he did sleep in his bassinet (without a pacifier, I should add) to make sure he was okay, or waking up every time he made a peep, or moved at all. (He was a really noisy sleeper!) I didn't leave my living room except to use the bathroom. I'm fairly certain I didn't shower at all that weekend. I sent Chris pictures constantly. I missed him terribly. I was glad to have 3 days to bond with my baby, but I wanted his daddy to be there too. I barely saw Chris at all while I was at the hospital and now he was gone for another 3 days. It was very hard on my heart, that's for sure.
Chris got home on Monday morning around 7 am. Xander's first doctor's appointment was at 9 am. I was super nervous about leaving the house with him. I sat in the back of the car with Xander and held his little head up...because wobbly baby heads are scary! We got to the office and had to check in for the first time. It took, what seemed like, forever. Everyone who walked by Xander would comment on the little baby and ask how old. All I wanted to do was say "STAY AWAY FROM MY BABY!" But I held my tongue! This was a new anxiety like no other. Sick people seemed to be every where and I had a newborn fresh out of the NICU. Thankfully, the rest of the appointment was fine. We met our young, fresh out of med school pediatrician, and they took his stats and everything was good. We breathed a big sigh of relief and went home as soon as possible to get our baby away from all of these contagious people!
We were finally in the clear! Or so we thought....TO BE CONTINUED.
*I know some people think I'm crazy for not wanting to use a pacifier right away, but it can really mess with breastfeeding, and I wanted to avoid that at all costs! The one thing I was really determined to do well, was breastfeed...or so I hoped.
This NICU experience was, by far, the hardest thing I have ever endured. The labor and delivery was nothing compared to the pain I felt seeing my baby hooked up to machines and wires and having to be apart from him. I am thankful every day for the staff at my hospital. This was just the universe showing me, yet again, that I was not in control and I needed to just let go and go with the flow. It also helped me see how strong and determined I could be. And, in hindsight, I think staying in the hospital for an entire week was very helping in teaching me how to take care of my baby...I probably would have lost it trying to care for a baby 2 days after pushing him out.