Monday, November 3, 2008

Memories of the NICU... Fading

We are no where near deciding if we are going to try to have another child someday. We're still licking our wounds from our experiences this time around, and I say that with full knowledge of how incredibly fortunate we are that things turned out as well as they did for us. But, once you've stood on the edge and seen all that can go wrong, horribly wrong, with pregnancy... it's hard to go back. No one talks about it - and, luckily, for most, pregnancy is the mythical, wondorous experience it is billed as. Sure, people get morning sickness, swollen ankles, mood swings, cravings -- but that is all part of joining the club of motherhood. You can watch others go through the same thing on a 30 minute sitcom... in those 9 months (or two episodes) leading up to the water breaking and rushing to the hospital and a few hours of oh-so-painful labor and then... boom... beautiful, healthy baby and everyone is happy and in a day or two, everyone treks home from the hospital together to start the sleepless nights as new parents.

You never hear about that other stories -- going to the doctor when you're seven months pregnant because you've had this annoying shoulder pain for the last 24 hours that is getting increasingly worse and, suddenly, being sent up to labor and delivery, hooked up to a bunch of monitors, given magnesium and told that you won't be going home until you deliver the baby which, by the way, is going to happen in the next day or two. And, as you try to process this information while running through your mental to-do list with all the things you were going to do before the baby arrived -- finish the kitchen, buy baby products, have a baby shower, start discovery on that case, have case planning meetings with all my co-workers and colleagues and make sure everyone knows what needs to happen while I'm on leave - and you can't process having a baby, especially a baby that is going to be small. And potentially sick. And in the hospital for many, many weeks. And even as you're visited by a constant stream of nurses, social workers, high risk doctors... you still don't believe it. But the disbelief doesn't matter because 48 horus later you're on an operating table and then you have a baby on the 4th floor, in the NICU, while you're on the 5th floor wondering how all of this happened.

During those early weeks, I pumped and pumped. I spent more time with my breast pump then I did with my baby, desperate to make sure that I pumped enough milk that she could eat exclusively from me. The thought of formula for my 3 lb baby made me want to call CPS on myself. I knew, intellectually, that there was nothing wrong with formula... but, I was going to provide for this baby even as she wiled away her hours in her isolette, alone in this new world of bright lights, strangers, and other crying babies. And, every time I turned that pump on, it began squaking at me "whacko" "whacko" "whacko" or "where's Kailey" "where's Kailey" "where's Kailey". I would sit in the dark at midnight, 3 AM and 6 AM pumping and being cajoled "where's Kailey" "where's Kailey". But, at the time, I mostly thought I was handling everything beautifully. I felt numb to the world - I felt like I wasn't feeling anything, and mostly I wasn't. I would run to the hospital in the morning, hold Kailey for the requisite hour, try to feed her (recreational breastfeeding, they called it), pump, hurry home, pump some more, hurry back to the hospital... and on and on it went. And I hardly ever cried - but, I also hardly ever felt anything. I felt obligated to hold Kailey, but I wasn't in love. Where was this overwhelming feeling of love that a new mommy was supposed to feel for her baby? I felt like I was in shock. I felt like I was running through the motions. But then, in the dark at 3 AM my pump told another story -- of all the emotions I was keeping pent up inside, "where's Kailey" "where's Kailey" "where's Kailey". I wanted my baby at home with me. I desperately wanted this to all end.

It's so funny how our bodies deal with stress. People under stress often will say they are not feeling that stressed out -- but then they'll complain, "it's so strange - my eye has been twitching for the last week" or "I have this chest pain that won't go away... I think it might be my heart" or "I just can't seem to sleep anymore." You can't really hide from stress. As soon as you realize your body is manifesting stress in one way, and overcome its latest manifestation with sheer will power,it just gives way to a new manifestation. The twitchy eye becomes the chest pain becomes the sleepless nights. You can't hide, you can just deny it as best you can and cope. But, your body needs an outlet. And so it was during those NICU days with my talking breat pump, "whacko" "whacko" "whacko". Whacko for deciding to become a parent? For having the audacity to hope that my pregnancy would be like all those pregancies you hear about -- with the morning sickness, the mood swings, those last months of pregnancy when you're so big and uncomfortable and just begging to go into labor, and then, finally, the water breaking, deciding with Eric when to the hospital, labor (maybe even labor with a bit of drama) and, ultimately, delivery of a healthy, plump, screaming baby. I never really expected it to go just like that. I had been hit by a car. My pelvis is all fucked up. I expected pregnancy to be hard. I expected to have to have a c-section. I didn't expect it to end early or land us in the NICU. Life always gets you that way.

But now, 6.5 months later, it's all beginning to fade. We are delighting in Kai's every trick and sound. She is wondorous -- that baby we always thought we would have. Plump, screaming, rolling, kicking, babbling. And, all of those awful NICU memories are fading fast. Like when people ask me what it feels like to have broken so many bones. I have no idea. It's as though it happened to someone else. And now, I am beginning to feel that way about the NICU. It wasn't so bad and it was obviously worth it. But, before I sink completely into the fog, I wanted to write it down. It wasn't easy, and it could have been so much worse. We could have been those people in the middle room. The room with the really sick babies. The babies that often didn't go home. We were so lucky... but, it might be time to walk away from the table. To cash in our good fortune. Read this post, dear Angie, before trying your luck again.

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