Saturday, August 12, 2017

Birth and arrival story - part IV of IV

To begin:

Why do I want to share this story? There is almost nothing about Samuel’s birth that went how I had thought it would go. Processing through this story has been challenging for me, but also surprisingly easy. There are so many narratives about birth in our culture. I recommend (and will continue to recommend) this article. I am working to claim this birth as our story and writing helps me to do that. I share it because I believe in the importance of sharing even birth stories that are labeled as negative or traumatic

A quick word about our story - like most parents, we researched every decision and made what we felt was the absolute best decision for ourselves and for our baby. For us, that means we planned to have a home birth. Home births, particularly in the United States where emergency medical care is available when needed, are incredibly low risk. We had an exceptional story. However, we still believe home births are an excellent option for some families. Negative comments about this will be deleted. Thank you for being respectful of our decisions and our story. 

Trigger warning - I actually don't think this portion of the story needs a trigger warning, as it is our happy ending. However, it does touch on a few difficult moments around our home birth, so if you think those will be hard for you, take note.



Dear Samuel,

The first time I held you, you still had a C-PAP machine on. Your cheeks were so chubby that the strap cut into them, and I wondered if it was uncomfortable. “He’s strong,” all the nurses said. You didn’t want to breathe with the machine, you wanted to set your own rhythm. You were wrapped in blankets. You exceeded my max weight-lifting limit of 10 pounds, so I got settled in the chair and you were placed into my arms in blankets. I stared lovingly at your face, more than half of it covered with machinery. I could not wait to see what you looked like without all that. I would get to know sooner than I would have thought. 

I will always remember the occupational therapist who came to assess you. (I didn’t realize that there were occupational therapists for newborns!) As she moved your body around, testing reflexes and stretching to test for muscle tone, you opened your eyes and looked at me for the first time. “Hi honey,” I said. “I’m so happy to see your eyes!!” Your little face was so chubby that you even had eye chub. You squinted out at me from deep underneath it, your eyes locking on to my face. I alternated sticking my face and hands in the hand holes in the incubator, equally desiring to see you and touch you. 

The sequence of the next events is a bit blurry in my memory. I kept holding my breath, but the good news kept on coming. You were cleared to go down to an oxygen tube instead of a C-PAP. My milk came in fast and furious during the pumping session when I heard you cry for the first time as they removed the electrodes stuck on your head that monitored your brain activity. “Ellen, you need to stop pumping,” Caleb said. “Why?” I asked. “Because the bottles are full!” 

They fed you a bottle of my milk down your feeding tube first. Next the nurse did a bottle feeding to test your suck-swallow-breathe reflex. You did well, so we were cleared to try nursing. With some help from a nipple shield and the skilled NICU nurses, you latched on and I experienced how much better that was than pumping. At one point, I lifted you up to switch sides, and your face was pure cherub. Your eyes were closed in bliss. Your cheeks were enormous and flushed pink. Your little mouth was wet and relaxed. You were the very definition of milk drunk, and it was at that moment that I fell explosively in love with you, head over heels, no turning back. I had loved you fiercely and protectively for months, but now I loved you with sheer and utter delight. I was addicted and I needed you in my arms as much as possible. I needed to fill your little tummy and for you to know that you were safe and we were done with the scary stuff. 

On Tuesday, I was discharged early in the day. The Mother-Baby unit was mostly empty, so we packed up, but kept our room as a base. I would be keeping my catheter for two weeks at home. I learned how to care for it, and was given a leg bag so I wouldn’t have to carry it around all the time. If I have another baby and don’t have to care for him or her while also hauling around a bag of my own pee, it will be amazing. The one plus is that I never had to worry about going to the bathroom… if desperate, someone else could empty the bag for me! 

Caleb and I went home Tuesday night with a hospital grade loaner pump from the NICU. We went home alone, to the house where we had thought you’d be born. Our house had been left a disaster after we went to the hospital - sopping wet towels in a hamper, dirty sheets on the bed where I had labored, an unflushed toilet. Fortunately, Caleb had been home a couple of times, family members had taken out the trash, and Caleb had done a lot of laundry. Nevertheless, walking into our house without you was an experience I would not wish on anyone. Caleb and I were uncharacteristically snippy and curt with each other, me battling ghosts of terrible labor memories, him feeling similarly. It was night, but no matter how many lights I turned on, I could not get the darkness out. 

Until... we were standing in the kitchen. Neither of us remember exactly what it was, but it was a comment or a gesture, something silly that made us both laugh. The laughter tinkled through the room and then shot across the icy darkness, cracking it open into a night that almost felt normal. Almost. 

I pumped that night in your room, and then slept in my bed, finally sleeping next to my husband, carefully hanging the catheter bag on the bed rail each time I laid down.

We spent that day with you in the NICU where you had a bath (maybe that was the day before), got your hearing checked, and graduated to a regular cradle instead of an incubator. You got to wear your first outfit, some little footed jammies with baby chicks on them that we got from a coworker. Or maybe all of that was the day before. What I do know is that you passed your hearing test and your grandmas got to hold you. Your dad read books to you. And that night, when I told the nurse I planned to go home, she gave me a frank talk that I will always appreciate. Look, she said. I am not going to tell you what to do. What I do know is that in order to go home, they want to see him eating well. He seems to be nursing well. If we switch back to bottles tonight, we are going to have to track exactly how many milliliters he is drinking. If he doesn’t drink a certain amount, they will keep him here longer. I made the decision to stay at the NICU. Caleb brought me my pajamas and toothbrush and pillows. I traipsed down the hall to the bathroom, brushed my teeth, returned, and got settled in.
Our little cherub in his chicken jammies.
A word to my readers: may you never have to spend the night in the NICU. And if you do, may you not have to do it when you are sore from giving birth, tired, catheterized, and sleeping on a chair. And if you have to do it like that, may they not come in and wake up your baby every three hours, or do the NICU test at 2am where they put him in a car seat for 90 minutes to make sure he doesn’t have a cardiac or respiratory emergency. That was the worst night. No night since has been that bad. Finally, around 5am, they brought in a swing because he wasn’t sleeping and neither was I. We both finally slept. 

Throughout this, Samuel, you were finally losing a little bit of birth weight. You had stayed steady at 11 lbs since you were born. Now you were losing, and though I had an abundance of milk, the doctors were worried. You lost weight all day Wednesday, all night Wednesday, and into Thursday. So you can imagine my surprise when I learned that you would be discharged Thursday afternoon! (And I was beyond grateful to not have to spend another night in the NICU.) We jumped through lots of NICU hoops that day, promised to come back for a weigh-in on Monday, and promised to follow an arduous schedule of nursing you following by offering a bottle/ me pumping until then. Anything to go home with you. Anything to hold you without the mandatory NICU oxygen and heart rate wires. 

We had a male nurse that day named Nate. Nate wore cowboy boots with his scrubs and was the one to carry you in your car seat down and out to the car where your dad was picking us up. We had so much stuff that your dad had taken it out on a cart. When he got to the parking garage, he realized he didn't know what to do with the cart, and he didn't want to spend the time walking it all the way back - so he put it on the roof rack of his car and drove it out. Nate the nurse thought that was awesome. 

We drove home (I even rode in the front seat - I knew you had passed your car seat test after all!) and took a photo by the front door. 

“Samuel, this is our home. This is where we live,” I shared with you as we walked inside. In response, you let out an enormous scream and began to cry. Maybe you felt the ghosts of labor too. But, having already battled them as your parents, we were able to dispel them quickly with some skin to skin and nursing. 

And with that, we dove headfirst into a more normal newborn experience. But I’ll save those stories for another time. 

Love,
Mom

P.S. A final note - we are perhaps some of the only parents ever who did not look up what your name meant before we named you. Once we were snuggled up in our home together, days and nights mixing into one sleepless, love-filled blur, I realized maybe I should do that. I sat in the chair in the room where I thought you were going to be born, space heater whirring in the background on a snowy March day. You were snuggled in my arms, breathing softly. When the result popped up on the Google page, I caught my breath and then tears filled my eyes.

Your name means "God has heard".
Amen. 

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