Grieving what might have been
Today my baby is nine days old and is doing as well as a nine day old who was born nine weeks premature can do. It is important to understand though that he almost didn’t make it.
The past nine plus days have been a whirlwind for my husband and Me. We have been constantly back and forth to the NICU since my little guy was born, but even the days before his birth were tough, as I was being inundated with information and constantly changing conditions. Most of the information I was being told, I had to deal with and process on my own, as quickly as possible, and then pass on to my husband and family. As my husband pointed out, up until yesterday I was running on pure adrenaline, it is only now that I find some of the magnitude of what transpired over the past week and a half or two actually sinking in. Now I am trying to sift through it all and the emotions I never let myself feel at the time. This is something I need to do to heal and move on.
Eleven days ago, my day started off so great. It was a Tuesday and my middle child didn’t have school, so my mom brought my two youngest to visit me while on bed rest at the hospital. They stayed a good amount of time and gave me lots of hugs. I was feeling pretty good when they left, but that feeling wouldn’t last long; things were about to take a turn for the worst. I had a scheduled ultra sound right after they left. This was no big deal, I was suppose to have them at least once a week. Usually they only took 15-20 minutes, but this ultra sound took almost two hours. The baby wasn’t very active during the ultra sound and wasn’t doing some of the stuff the technician needed him to do. I even tried eating a handful or two of sweet tarts, usually a sure way to get the baby moving. I could tell there was something the technician wasn’t telling me. When the doctor finally came in, she told me that the cord blood from the placenta to the baby was barely flowing and the baby was not gaining weight. It wasn’t as bad as it could be, things weren’t flowing backward, but the baby wasn’t very active and he was showing signs of distress. In short, the placenta was giving out and the baby was going to need to come out sooner than the 34 weeks they hoped to get me to when I first entered the hospital. The doctor scheduled another ultra sound for Friday and hoped I would be able to make it at least one more week before the baby would have to be taken. I began to prepare myself and my husband for the reality of our baby coming next week. I called my mom, who was caring for my other children and told her not to go anywhere, that D-day would probably be the next week.
As part of bed rest, they monitored the baby twice a day for about an hour, but the monitoring began to be for much longer and the doctor asked that an extra monitoring be added first thing in the morning. The doctor wanted this to be before I ate breakfast in case I needed to be rushed to c-section. This, coupled with the “dips” in heart rate my baby was having, were very ominous signs. The nurses tried to assure me that the “dips” weren’t that bad because he was recovering quickly, but they monitored me more than usually all the same. Tuesday night, I couldn’t sleep at all. I was convinced that I was going to wake up and find out that they were going to need to take the baby that morning. I was so worried all night that my baby wasn’t going to make it through the night. The next day, I was to relieved when I awoke to some big kicks and jabs from my little guy. He seemed to be back, maybe things were going to be okay after all. That day he was more active than he had been since we had entered the hospital. I began to feel a sense of relief. Maybe Friday’s ultra sound was going to be ok and we would make it until at least the 32 week mark. While I was being monitored Wednesday afternoon, a friend dropped by for a visit. They seemed to leave me on the monitor for longer than usual, but I figured that part of this was due to my guest and that they didn’t want to interrupt us. Nurses came and went a few times during the visit, adjusting the equipment to pick up the baby better, but that wasn’t uncommon, my guy liked to make things difficult and move during monitoring. It wasn’t until about half way through my friend’s visit that I became suspicious. My main nurse kept coming and peeking in and then leaving when she saw I still had a visitor. She began peeking in more and more frequently and seemed a little panicked. I could tell something wasn’t right, so I wrapped up the visit and only had to wait a few seconds for her to quickly reenter the room once my guest was gone. She seemed very hesitant and upset so I tried to put her at ease by telling her that I knew something was wrong and to just give it to me straight. Apparently, when they first put me on the monitor, my baby was in the midst of a big dip in heart rate and they couldn’t tell how long he’d been that way. These dips became more and more frequent and lasted longer. All the nurses at the desk were watching my monitors with bated breath, terrified that he might not recover from each incident. My nurse became so worried that she began putting in calls to all my doctors and specialist and recalling them when she felt they weren’t getting back to her fast enough. She was panicked that I was going to lose he baby and she was determined that this would not happen on her watch. I was told that I was being put on full time monitoring and was not to get up and off the monitors except to use the bathroom. I was to order dinner and then not eat or drink anything after midnight. In the morning they would take the baby. I remained calm as I processed this info, struggling to come to terms with the fact that this was my last night of pregnancy and in the morning my baby would be out. I called my husband and asked that he tell my family. In the meantime, I took solace in two things, the fact that the baby was currently active so I knew he was still alive and the idea that once my baby was out in the morning, if he was in distress, the doctors would be able to help him which they couldn’t do while he was inside me.
I did the best I could, by myself in my room, to deal with what was happening, but mostly I tried not to think too much about it because I knew worrying or getting upset wasn’t going to help either one of us. Mostly I kept busy by nervously crochet the blanket I was working on for him, desperately trying to finish it before they took him from me in the morning. I couldn’t concentrate on the tv or my crossword puzzles, so I finally resigned myself to laying in the dark and attempting to sleep. Sleep alluded me though, and aside from a few momentary drifts into semiconsciousness, I didn’t really sleep that night. Despite trying not to think too much about it, I couldn’t help but lay there waiting to feel any slight movement that my baby made and listening intently to his heart monitor, holding my breath anytime his heart beat seemed to slow down or become inaudible. It was a long night of waiting. By the time the morning came, I just wanted him out of me so someone else could be responsible for watching him and making sure he was still alive. I was terrified that when they finally got me open and pulled him from me, he would be still born. I didn’t breath a sigh of relief until I had his few very faint cries once he was out. Even then, it was just a small sigh of relief, as the whisked him off to be worked on more and we had to wait hours before we knew for sure he was okay. Even then it was touch and go. Mostly I was just relieved that he was out of me and could at least receive any medical care he might need.
The next day, I was feeling pretty good thanks to some morphine and other pain killers. I visited my little guy in the NICU and was told he was doing pretty good. That made me feel even better. My mind was fuzzy with drugs and I was exhausted from the events of the day before. I was feeling optimistic, like somehow my guy was going to be different from the other preemies, my guy was going to beat the odds and come home from the NICU super early and be a champ. After my husband left to go home that night, I headed down to the NICU to check on my champ only to find that he wasn’t doing as well as I had thought. My little guy had had some set backs. He’d had a few “incidents,” he was rejecting the food they thought he was digesting, and he’d become restless and they couldn’t calm him down (a sign that he was in pain), so they had to give him morphine. My heart broke and I couldn’t stay there. I returned to my room, determined not to cry, but I couldn’t stop it. Once it came, it was like a flood gate opening. I desperately wanted my husband there to hold me and tell me that it would all be okay, or at he very least, to be there experiencing it with me. Instead, he was home dealing with my older sons’ emotional break downs over neither parent being there for over 24 hours. He couldn’t come back to he hospital because they needed him. As much as I wanted him and needed him there, I knew my boys needed him more because they were young and were having even more trouble than I was processing all that was happening. Eventually I made myself stop crying (partly because it was painful at my incision site to cry and blow my nose) and distracted myself refusing to think about it anymore. I’d let myself have a small release of what was building, but I couldn’t afford to let it all out, not right then.
Here we are, nine days after my youngest son was cut from my body. My wounds are still sore and I still feel slightly like I’m walking around in some sort of dream or alternate reality. My little guy is doing well, but I’m not so sure I am. Aside from a few tears that slip from my eyes when I’m not totally aware, I have yet to cry, I have yet to process or mourn what happened. I’m going day by day, propelled by my need to care for my four little boys and my bodies need to rest and heal, but I know I am due for a break and it will probably be a big one. I’m not sure when it will come or how I will handle it, but the cracks are starting to show and considering how calm I was about all of this, I’m pretty sure I’m going to be one big mess when the cracks finally give way. After all, it was only today that I finally let myself acknowledge that my little guy might not have made it and just how rushed everything was. I’d kept that thought locked at the back of my mind because I couldn’t handle it, but now it has been unlocked and I’m just glad that he is here and doing okay. When this is all over and he finally comes home, I will know that my littlest guy really is a miracle, but before that can happen, I need to process all that has happened and will happen in between.