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February 9, 2013 / Mettā Reiki Center

Daddy’s Story, Part 2: Coming Home

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Our baby girl was born the day before Thanksgiving, 2011. The procedure was an emergency caesarian (c-section) procedure. My wife had been suffering from preeclampsia and at 29 weeks the doctors told us that they needed to bring her into this world if we wanted the best chance of ensuring both Mom and Baby were to come through the birth safely. We spent another few days in the hospital as my wife recovered and the doctors brought her health issues under control and then we went home – without our daughter.
We were not ready for this. We walked into the apartment and suddenly everything felt out of place. The nursery wasn’t ready, we had 3 cats (would she be allergic?), the apartment was too small for a toddler and the neighborhood while decent wasn’t one we wanted to bring our daughter up in. The other kids in the apartment complex played in the halls until all hours of the night, how would she ever get to sleep? We had to swap bedrooms to ensure the nursery wasn’t at the front of the apartment but that also meant our bedroom was right next to all of the a/c units for the complex and they were noisy as all get out – sleep was not going to be easy for us either.
We tried to get settled into a routine – I was back to work and my wife would spend the days up at the NICU sitting beside our daughter, reading to her and talking to her. At the end of the day she would come home and we’d call the overnight nurse at least once and usually 2 or 3 times just to check on her. Physically my wife was doing better and that was a good thing. We kept saying that this might be a blessing in disguise so that she could be able to work on the nursery before bringing the baby home – trying to find the glimmer of good in this stupid situation. Everyone kept telling us how lucky we were to have each other and how lucky we were to have such a beautiful baby. When my wife went back to work, it was at the same hospital our daughter was at and at first we thought this would be great but it turned out to be just the opposite – the fact she was in the hospital and not there next to our daughter weighed her down mentally. When someone would visit the smiles would go up and the statements of we’re doing ok would come out – yes, we’re ok – Baby is doing great – yes, much appreciated, thank you. Every conversation was the same. And every conversation was an act. I will admit that we were putting on a good show for everyone. We were not ok, we were broken.
Emotionally, mentally, physically, we were broken. Neither of us could sleep without dreaming about what might go wrong at the NICU. We felt guilty for not being by her side constantly. My wife started to blame herself for the pregnancy not making it to term. She felt like she was less of a woman and failure as a mother. Night after night she cried for hours while I sat beside her and held her. She became so focused on her time at the NICU it was almost like an obsession. She would spend 16 hours a day sitting by our baby, then come home and tear herself apart because she felt she should be at the hospital. The questions she asked herself were the same night after night: What if the baby forgot her? She had not gotten that opportunity to bond with the baby right after she was born – the baby had been wisked away to the NICU – what damage would that do to their relationship? What if the nurses at the NICU didn’t like her, would they take it out on the baby? What if another parent took her when they weren’t looking? What if she stopped breathing? What if she never came home? What if she never lost the weight, would I ever be attracted to her again? How could I want to be with her after she failed so badly as a Mom and a Woman? She would lie in bed and hold her tummy and cry – her little buddy wasn’t there anymore. Night after night, question after question, worst case scenario after worst case scenario. Yes, we were broken.
And then probably the worst thing that can happen to a new mom besides having to leave your baby at the hospital while you go home happened, my wife’s milk dried up. We don’t know if it was the meds or just her body but no matter how much she pumped, the amount just kept getting smaller and smaller until she had to stop. In her mind, another failure as a mother. Then it did get worse with the visit from the vision specialist who’s assistant told us that not only were they required to force her eyes open with this contraption that had to have come from some medieval torture chamber – if we didn’t continue seeing this exact specialist after she was released from the NICU then they would call social services and have our baby taken away to someone who could care for her properly (and yes, folks, that was the quote made face to face with both of us – right there on the NICU floor beside our baby girl). Yes, we were broken.
I was scared – my wife as teetering on an edge. Every ounce of her being was telling her she was a failure as a woman and a mother and while the dedicated nurses at the NICU were great – this statement from the eye specialist had a major impact on my wife. She was scared someone was going to come and take our baby and we would never see her again. She was headed into a full blown post-partum depression and there was nothing I could do to stop it. I was trying to help guide her through the process but in the end I could no more then try to make sure that she had a loving set of arms to fall into and a set of shoulders to beat on when needed. I was, at times, truly scared about what was going to happen when we would finally be able to bring Baby home. Many of the nights were spent with me telling her that we’ll get through it – the baby will come home and we’ll have the nursery done and life is going to be great. I had to be the positive force and try to keep her focused on the good side of things no matter what.
Then we got the news – Baby was ready to come home! We had the car seat at the hospital and they had done the testing and she was ready to go home. We put all of all of the plans in place and got everything ready and on the morning of the day she was coming home we got up early – probably the first night of sleep we had had in months. We showered and got things ready – the doctors would make their rounds at 9:00am so we would shoot to be there at 9:00am so right after they saw her, we could bring her home. As we are getting ready, my wife received a call from the nurse who informed us that Baby had an ‘episode’ overnight and they were now going to have to keep her in the NICU for another week! What!??? No one called us in the middle of the night to tell us anything – what happened? We rushed to the hospital – what the heck was an ‘episode’? The doctors told us that her breathing had a moment overnight where her respiratory rate dropped to a level that meant they had to continue to monitor her for another week. No one knew about this until someone was reading the print out the next day. This was every nightmare we had been having come to reality – something happened and no one was watching! My wife escalated a complaint to the charge nurse and got a one on one meeting with them to voice her concern. This was not the first time we had escalated a concern about her care but it was the hardest to take since this stopped her from coming home. After being reassured by several members of the staff that Baby was doing ok and this was very normal and they were just being extra cautious, we went home – again without Baby. Neither of us slept. We cried, we wondered what would happen next, we wondered if she would ever come home – it felt like the entire world was against us.
One week later, it was all set again – Baby was coming home. This time we were much more cautious about getting our hopes up. As we got ready that morning we watched the phone for any hint of bad news. We headed to the hospital and met with the doctors and they had nothing but good news. Baby was going home. We put her in the car seat and began to leave when the charge nurse comes out and asks us for a picture – everyone wants to see the little miracle one last time. We finished making the rounds of all the wonderful nurses that took care of her while she was there and then we are free to go – 2 months to the day from when she was born – January 23, 2012 – Baby was sprung from the NICU and we took her home! We made the drive home and when we walked through the front door of the apartment, we did so as a family for the very first time. Suddenly, we were not as broken – we were not missing a part of us. We were home. The apartment felt a little better, the children playing outside sounded a little happier, the a/c units outside the window reminded us a little of the noises she was used to in the NICU. Suddenly, life was better and we were not as broken. Baby was home and we were not as broken anymore.
Over the next few months our apartment became a learning ground for everyone. My wife slowly came out of the depression. There were good days and bad days and there was even a time where we turned to a counselor to give her an outlet to help her get through it. But she did it. Day by day, week by week, she reached down inside and found that she is a good woman and she is a good mother. She grew as a mom as our daughter grew as a baby. Every milestone for Baby is experienced by both Mom and Baby for the first time. Watching both of them light up as Baby learns something new – whether it’s something big like learning to crawl or something small like how to pick up a cheerio with her thumb and forefinger – both of them now beam ear to ear with each new item learned. We met every one of the eye doctor appointments until she was cleared. My wife launched a website to give parents of NICU children a place to find support and information. Those first few months of our daughters’ life laid the groundwork for an amazing family unit but as with any construction project, there was a lot of struggle to get the foundation right but once it was right, the overall project is a great success.
My wife wants so badly to make up for the time she feels she lost while Baby was in the NICU. I don’t know if that desire will ever pass. The main thing I hope for her now is that she finds it in her heart to forgive herself for what she sees as a failure. Having a baby early is not a failure and it certainly does not make the mother any less of a woman. If I could take away that pain and that loss I would do so. In our situation, she did nothing wrong. She wasn’t taking drugs or smoking or drinking or anything else. She watched what she ate, stayed in shape to the best she could and even played music for the baby every night. She gave our daughter a chance. 10 or 20 years ago, even at 29 weeks she would have had little to no chance of survival. Today, thanks to the great folks at the NICU and to my wife for everything she did to take care of herself and Baby while she was carrying, our 29 week old miracle not only survived but is flourishing. I hope that one day she understands just how strong she was through all of this. She handled what can only be described as possibly one of the worst things a mother could ever have to deal with better and with more dignity and grace then she will ever give herself credit for. I truly hope that our daughter grows up with the strength of a woman that her mother has. That would be a true success story.
Out little miracle is now 14 months old and she is doing amazingly well. She is walking along the edges of couches and chairs, she is feeding herself anything she can get her hands on and she has developed a definite opinion about how things should happen – mostly she feels everything should center around her but she also has no problem taking a cheerio and sharing it with someone or smiling at the waiter just to see him smile back. She still doesn’t sleep through the night but she is better than she used to be. We no longer live in the apartment as we were able to buy a house in a neighborhood that my wife always dreamed of living in when she was a little girl and we moved in just before Baby’s 1st birthday. When I look back at the last 14 months, it’s been a crazy ride but I can honestly say that at no point did I ever feel like we wouldn’t make it. We’ve both had our moments of doubt and the moments of wondering if it’s all worth it, even moments where it just felt good to slam a cabinet. But here we are, survivors of an ordeal that unless you have gone through it, it’s very hard to explain. The counselor that my wife went to even related the experience to the Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) that some soldiers deal with when returning from war. My wife still struggles when she hears lullaby’s but they no longer force her to leave the room in tears. Christmas this year was spent with a tree and a train and presents – not a silent vigil in the NICU followed by going home without Baby. No, this year, we tucked her up on Christmas night and stood vigil while she slept like a little angel. Yeah, we’re not broken anymore – we may not be perfect, but we’re definitely not broken anymore.

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