This time 2 years ago:
I was painfully driving myself to the hospital to spend hours snuggling with my baby girl in the NICU.
I’d take forever to climb into the car and position a pillow between my c-sectioned tummy and the seatbelt. I always tried not to think too much about what would happen to my insides if I was in a car accident.
I remember that deep, unsettling ache at my incision site and how much it hurt as I took tiny, snail-paced steps through the parking lot.I didn’t really care that I had to walk at a snail’s pace–it was such a relief to not need a wheelchair!
I remember how loved it made me feel when my mom bought me some cable-knit, sweater-y leggings and a beautiful, pink and lavender sweatshirt to wear on my nightly treks to the hospital. Every time I wore them, I felt like I was getting a hug from her.
Walking through the automatic doors in the hospital lobby (with a sigh of relief at not having to open a heavy door by hand) always made me smile, no matter how tired I felt. The lobby was brimming with a sparkling, Santa’s village, potted pointsettias, and a giant display of gingerbread houses made by local children.
Sloooowly making my way to the elevator, I admired the waxed, tile floors, kept in pristine condition by the janitorial staff.
Since the hospital was for children, I frequently saw very ill children and their parents in the elevator. It put my experience into perspective. I was just waiting for my baby girl to grow and learn to drink milk on her own.
The whole experience was such a study in contrasts–yes, my baby girl was in the NICU and not home with me. But I got to snuggle her in a reclining chair and stare out the NICU window at the pretty Christmas lights that decorated the balcony below us. Even this year, driving past the hospital and seeing those same Christmas lights brings tears to my eyes.
Yes, I had to pump milk in a hospital with nurses going in and out (or else trek to a pumping room down the hall)….but I had access to a pump and I was able to make the best possible food for my tiny girl.
As the month wore on, it got harder and harder to leave the NICU. I put on a cheerful smile, only left when River was sleeping (it was impossible to leave during those few waking hours), and then cried to my mom on the phone when I was out where the nurses couldn’t see me. I worried that if they saw me cry, they’d think I was weak and unable to care for her and that this might factor into when she’d be able to come home. In retrospect, this was a bit silly.
Yet, on a daily basis, I heard nurses murmuring about a baby who hadn’t made it, or a baby who was still in the NICU, 6 months after being born…or a baby with severe complications of prematurity. Hearing this always reminded me of how great my situation really was, and of how many things I could be deeply grateful for.
I remember carrying River’s empty car seat into the elevator, taking it to the NICU so that they could see if she could maintain her breathing and oxygen saturation levels while in the seat. I was thrilled, as this indicated that River would be strong enough to come home soon. A brand new father joined me in the elevator with his tired but beaming wife. They had been in the hospital for 2 days and were taking their healthy, full-term baby home. Blinded by his own joy, the father boisterously joked, “Hey! Where’s the baby?” indicating River’s empty seat. I was surprised at how much his question hurt. I wasn’t upset that his baby was going home and mine wasn’t. It just hurt to have to face how much I wanted her to come home and that she couldn’t.
I remember our amazingly supportive friends and family–bringing food, praying, rejoicing at our updates and pictures, posting encouraging Facebook messages, sending flowers….I remember feeling surrounded and held by that love.
I remember the NICU nurses–sweet, informative, bustling, efficient, gossipy, funny, and invaluable in making me feel empowered and knowledgeable enough to care for such a tiny, fragile person. I loved that River’s high-pitched, preemie cries were “loud” to them, and that they marveled at her expressiveness and strength despite her size. I loved that they rejoiced at her progress and were as excited as we were when she moved to a crib from an isolette.
I will never forget the day they told us that in 24 hours, we’d be taking her home. I bustled around the house making sure it was perfect. I took our car and her carseat to a CHP office to have an officer install it so that it would be as safe as possible. I skipped my NICU visit that day so that everything could be perfect and ready for River’s return. The next morning, as we got ready to leave, making sure our camera and her “going home” outfit were packed in the car, my cell phone rang. “I’m sorry,” the doctor said. “River hasn’t gained any weight for the last 2 days, so we’re not going to be able to release her today.”
Keeping my voice bright, I replied, “Oh, OK. Well, we’ll just come over and spend some time with her then.”
Hanging up the phone, I dissolved into tears, crumpling onto the couch as I tried to relay the information to the husband. “Maybe she didn’t gain any weight because I skipped yesterday’s visit,”I irrationally worried. “Maybe she felt abandoned and was overly stressed….”
I was so sad and out of it that I left my cell phone in the car. By the time I realized it was there (the following morning), the NICU had called my parents trying to reach us, and they called the husband’s phone. We called the NICU and they said that River COULD come home…but that the doctor who could release her had already gone home for the day, since we’d taken so long to return their call.
The nurses called his cell phone and the doctor TURNED HIS CAR AROUND, drove back to the hospital, and did all the paperwork with us so that we wouldn’t have to wait another day to bring our little girl home. What a compassionate man.
And we had our little girl home for Christmas.
And 2 years later, her delight in the Christmas season is more heart warming and hilarious than I ever could have imagined: “Sparkly TREES!”
Thank you, God, for Christmas, for family, and for letting us bring our little girl home.