My son’s due date was the other day. The due date was just a day they gave us to estimate when he should have been born, he was never going to be born on the actual due date (only 5% of babies are born on their actual due date). This is my fourth child and the three before him all ended up going c-section, so he was going to be a scheduled c-section. More than likely, my son would’ve been born the week before his due date. I’m not sure when though because we never made it far enough into the pregnancy to set a date. Instead, my son celebrated his two month birthday two days before his due date, he was 9 weeks early. He celebrated his second month in the NICU, where he has been for the last 9 weeks.
When you have a preemie, the rule of thumb they give you for when your baby will go home is plus or minus two weeks from their due date. We hoped and thought (doctors included) that he would be home on the minus two weeks side, but that didn’t happen. As that time frame approached, it became clear that he wasn’t going to be coming home two weeks before his due date as planned. It was Easter weekend and we thought he’d be home to celebrate his first holiday. We ordered all the things we needed in preparation of him coming home. My mom, who’d been staying with us and helping us for 8 weeks at that point, went home, and my husband began his month long paternity leave. It was heart breaking when that weekend came and went and he was no closer to coming home. I became depressed and had a hard time making myself go into the hospital the days following, and once I got in there, I struggled to pull myself away and leave to go home to my three other kids. Eventually I just gave up any thought of when he might come home and focused on him and the time I spent with him.
Now his due date has come and gone and there is still no sign of him being ready to go home. He has definitely changed in the two months since he’s been here. Sure, he has gained weight and come off of all medical assistance except for the feeding tube, but it is more than that. It is almost like, in the few days leading up to his due date, he went through a metamorphosis from frail little, barely conscious, blob, into a real baby. He is more alert and awake, we seem to connect more, he cries a real baby cry (loud and full of purpose), and he even attempts to mimic my facial expressions when I make faces at him. He has finally come to life, just in time for when he was suppose to come into this world. This makes the time I spend with him much more meaningful, but it also makes it harder to be apart from him. We are now like a normal mother-child duo, except he still hasn’t figured out how to eat and is living in the NICU.
We continue to move forward knowing that another milestone isn’t far away. Soon we will hit the two weeks post due date mark, the later side of the approximation of when he should be home, and there is still a chance he won’t be home. Earlier this week, my son showed signs that he would be home by late next week. He had dramatically increased the amount of milk he was able to bottle feed in a sitting, he was close to reaching the minimum amount he had to be able to eat. I felt my spirits and optimism rise at the thought that his release date might come soon. I informed my husband that we should take some time this weekend to prep stuff for his homecoming. Then he had a back slide when he was given the wrong nipple during feedings and the faster flow caused his reflux to get worse and for him to begin to show signs of a feeding aversion again. Now he is only eating half the amount he was eating only three days ago and I am feeling much less optimistic. Next week is my husbands last week of paternity leave and my son still might not be home before he goes back to work. We had arranged for my mom to come back out for one more week to help us adjust to life with a fourth child at home while my husband returned to work. Now there is a good chance that she will be coming out yet again to watch my other three boys while I shuttle back and forth between them and my baby in the NICU. After my mother’s week here, I’m not sure what we do if he is still in the hospital. I question whether it ever just gets to a point where they yank his tube and send him home, sink or swim.
The fact that my son is perfectly healthy, with the exception of some reflux and the inability to eat a full feed through a bottle, is both a blessing and a curse. He is healthy and that is great, but that means that there is nothing the doctors can do to move the process along, it is completely up to my son. This is frustrating because it leaves us with no idea as to a definite end date. We used to have goals that we were working towards. First it was the two weeks pre due date, then it was the due date, but now, with the last goal they gave us, two weeks post due date, is approaching and not looking anymore likely than any of the other dates, I question where we go from here. If we miss the next milestone, what do we aim for as a release date after that, where do I set my sights? Obviously my answer would be every day until he finally comes home, but I can’t live my life that way, constantly holding my breath.
So I struggle to stay positive and keep going. We are 11 weeks in from when this all first started (when I was admitted to the hospital) and I’m exhausted, but I keep going because I have no other choice. I wake each day hoping that something has changed and that I will arrive at the hospital to hear of great improvements and the news of my son’s pending release, but that day has yet to come despite his due date passing. So what’s mom to do but sit and wait a little more.