16 days feels like a lifetime, endless days in the NICU, trying to decipher alarms and numbers and medical lingo. A blur of worrying and pumping at home in the pink guest room, finding rides to the hospital, pouring varying amounts of breast milk into different sized clear plastic tubes, writing name and dates on labels, trying to find time for my son. My mom has been taking care of so much at home, I’m endlessly grateful but at the same time I feel a bit like I’m a stranger in my own house. My stomach is finally shrinking but I’m still sore and bleeding, my boobs are constantly achy and it feels like I don’t even have a baby to “show” for it. Every day I want to take her home but at the same time I’m pushing for her to stay, I know she is in the right place, and frankly I’m terrified of something happening to her under my watch. I feel alone and scared. I know I have my mom, husband and family but for some reason I feel like she is my responsibility and let’s be honest if something were to happen to her, I would only blame myself.
Her homecoming date is fast approaching and I’m actually begging Dr. White to keep her another day so that we can have the weekend to plan and so that my husband can come with me to bring her home. We are required to be two adults with her in the car anyways for that first ride and four weeks after that- one in the backseat making sure she is breathing okay. Everything about taking her home suddenly seems scary. The responsibility is daunting. I know I won’t be able to stop watching her. I know I won’t be able to sleep. Just the thought makes me tired…and sad. I should be able to enjoy this time. I know a lot of parents have it worse-way worse. Some have to leave their babies in the NICU for months and then still adapt to life with sick infants at home who require breathing monitors and machines and constant monitoring.
I know every nurse in the NICU advices against breathing alarms (you apparently worry more and freak out about false alarms) but I don’t understand this reasoning, “better safe than sorry”. My favorite nurse let’s me know that if I absolutely insists on buying an alarm against their suggestions, I should go for a small one that clips on the diaper and monitors the baby’s movements, they are the most accurate and least expensive at the same time (doesn’t keep me from ordering the most expensive big one directly from a NICU in Singapore though) but I do also get the one she is telling me to get (if I’m crazy enough to get one). If I thought this would help me get more sleep in the coming weeks, I was wrong though. The day we are picking our princess up, we are all nervous and on edge. We had a productive weekend, mom fixing and cleaning our son’s old crib for baby (bless her), buying some additional things including humidifier, and some more preemie clothes, diapers and swaddlers. We prepare the pink room, making the cradle my husband’s dad has built himself, with pink sheets. Making the room livable for baby and I, as an isolation chamber for the next four weeks. In the car to pick her up, we argue- about everything and nothing. This is so so important to me crucial- and I can’t make any mistake-it feels like if I do my baby girl’s wellbeing will be compromised. I know I’m frantic and I’m exaggerating the severity of the situation but I do feel like I’ve been through so much and I can’t quite believe that the worst is over. I should feel relieved and actual joy that this day has come but my stomach is in knots and even if arguing only makes it worse and I hate my nagging voice it feels strangely better than worrying about the task at hand-keeping our baby alive. Again I feel alone in this. I love that my mom is here, what would I do without her? But I feel like if I fail, I will fail not only my baby, but my mom and everybody else.
We have discussed a night nurse (registered and an expert in preemies) to help out the first time home but they are ridiculously expensive. I feel that my husband should take more time off to help out but I know he can’t because we need him working and if he doesn’t he doesn’t earn anything since he runs his own company. I find a nurse for a reasonable price last minute for the first nights and even though my husband is fine with this I find myself going ridged and defensive like I’m not a good mom, unable to handle the situation. Baby did stop breathing only five days ago and I’m still trying to justify the need for a night nurse. I get an e-mail on the way to the hospital saying the nurse can’t come that same night anyways should we decide to hire her, which adds to my stress.
Parking at the hospital showing our hospital bracelets for what might be the last time (fingers crossed) we suddenly stop our fierce discussion (what are we disagreeing about again?) and just look at each other, we can do this! Together! Walking in to the NICU for what is supposed to be the last time, we hug and smile! Let’s do this! I feel better as soon as I see her- my little 2 weeker (+) so bright and sweet. The nurse makes me calmer too. We get to give her a bath and she is teaching me how (head first so it does not get cold, then put on the little hat, then wash body; fast and efficient so we can quickly wrap her in a towel) then we feed her the last of my NICU breast milk and dress her in a special going home outfit! (Leopard and pink lace!). She is almost too big for the preemie size and she passes the car seat test with flying colors; she is ready to come home. They give her some shots and remind us of the isolation promise. We sign some papers including that we took the CPR course and the nurse follows us to the car with the baby hanging on her arm like a rag doll (maybe it’s time for mama to take over). Security is making sure all our bracelets are matching and then we walk out of the hospital together-free!
The nurse watches closely while I put baby in the car seat (dang she is tiny!) and I crawl in next to her as my husband start the engine. “See you never again NICU” (no offense) we are out of here and we are taking our baby girl home!