Monday, May 5, 2014

The Birth: NICU

When we left off I had given birth to our amazing baby girl, spent the day and night from hell in the most uncomfortable hospital room ever, been discharged a mere 24 hours after giving birth and waited around the rest of the day for a beleaguered nursery staff to finally finish up with our daughter so we could go home. We were walked out by my nurses around 8PM (they have to check to make sure the car seat is installed correctly before we can take the baby), almost 48 hours to the minute we first stepped through those doors. Difference was, our lives were now irrevocably changed.

Amazing how much could happen in only two days.

We got home and just kinda looked around in shock. I still couldn't believe we were home, with a BABY and they expected us to take care of it! She was so tiny and delicate and so many things could go wrong. And I was so so so tired. I still had not slept more than a few 20 minute naps here and there or so in the past 60 hours. I was beginning to understand how the crab fisherman feel on the Bering Sea. Right down to the sore muscles and blurred vision. But the baby was sleeping and things seemed like we would be okay.

Two hours later I didn't know how we were going to make it another second. She would not stop screaming. Nothing worked. I fed her pretty much around the clock, causing my nipples to go raw and cracked, rocked her, walked around, cuddled her, lay her down when it became too much. But it went on the whole night. Inconsolable. Panicked. Terrified. And the baby was pretty messed up too. Then at 10 AM, she settled down and slept for the first time. Only an hour but we finally got a nap. I had read that a baby's second night of life is the worst because they finally realize their not in the nice warm womb anymore and holy crap real life sucks. So I was prepared for this type of reaction. I figured the worst was behind us and soon we would fall into our schedule and everything would be fine.

And everything was fine all day. Mostly we were concerned about poop. I never imagined we would be so invested in a bodily function. We charted it and timed how long between because we were told non-regular poops meant she wasn't getting enough to eat. Things were going well. Until we hit 10PM again and it started all over. Screaming, crying, can't be soothed. Charming's mom had stayed the night because we had had such a horrible time the night before, she figured she could help. But with me breastfeeding there was little for her or Charming to do. So I sent them to bed because there was no need for all of us to be sleep deprived. I figured I would sleep in the morning when they got up and could hold the baby for me. It was a constant struggle for four hours and nothing I did worked. When she wouldn't nurse anymore, the only thing that soothed her for a bit, I started to get worried. Then I calculated that we hadn't seen any poop in too long a time. My worry ratcheted up a whole lot. I was downstairs so no one heard the baby screaming until I couldn't stand it any more and went upstairs to wake my MIL to see if she knew what could be wrong. We tried everything and I finally broke down and called the pediatrician hotline for advice from the on call nurse. I explained everything, how old she was, how she won't stop crying and now she wouldn't nurse, and she told me to take her temperature.


I about fell down when I read that. In fact I took it again just to be sure. 101.9. The nurse told us to get back to the hospital as quick as we could. A temperature that high in a baby so young is nothing to mess around with.  Sobbing, I went to wake Charming and told him we had to go to the hospital. We had only had our baby home for a day and already we had broken her.

We got to the emergency room and got her admitted and waited for what felt like an eternity for someone to see us. As we waited, I kept staring at my daughter willing what I was seeing to not be true. She was steadily turning more and more yellow as time went on. Jaundice. When the doctor came in and checked her out her temp was still high so they gave her some baby Tylenol. He confirmed my fears of jaundice. Then they said because her temp was so high and that is unusual in babies so young, they had to do a spinal tap to test for meningitis.

A spinal tap. On my barely three-day old infant.

My head was spinning with everything going on and I lost it. I couldn't stop crying. They sent us out of the room so they could perform the procedure. Sitting in the waiting room all I could focus on was the fact that just a day ago were in this very same hospital, leaving with our newborn daughter, all full of hope and promise. Now the same place had turned evil and scary and my daughter was defenseless without me being poked and prodded by strangers. It was a very long twenty minutes.

When they finally let us back into the room they informed us our baby was so dehydrated they couldn't get a drop of fluid out of her spine for the spinal tap. So they would have to do it again. In the meantime she was going to be admitted into the NICU, pumped full of fluids, tested for every disease under the sun that could cause her high temp and treated for jaundice. Then we were told the information that shook me to my core. Most likely the extreme dehydration led to the high temp and caused the jaundice. And the dehydration was because she wasn't getting any milk from me.

It was my fault.

I had been steadily starving my baby for two days straight because my milk had not come in. I had caused her to get so dehydrated she had not a drop of fluid left in her body. My inadequacies had led to her spending an unknown amount of time in the hospital intensive care for newborns. Because I was unable to care properly for my child she was going to be alone and attended to by strangers.

This was all my fault.

That is all that went through my head in a continuous loop as I clutched my daughter when they wheeled us through the hospital to the NICU. It was my fault. I couldn't stop crying, I didn't want to give her up. I didn't want to leave her. But as they brought her into the isolation room (she had to be in isolation due to her coming in from the outside with an unknown high temp) and started to hook her up to IVs and sensors I was grabbed by the head nurse. She took me firmly by the shoulders, stared straight into my weary, tear streaked face and told me to go home and sleep for no less than 8 hours, they would take care of my baby, I didn't need to worry. She explained I had to take care of myself or I would be no good for my daughter because they would need me to pump for her as soon as I could. And my milk would never come going on four days of no sleep, exhausted and emotionally drained as I was. Through the haze I knew she was right. But leaving my baby there was the hardest thing I ever had to do in my life. And no matter what everyone kept telling me, how I couldn't have known or done anything different, I still felt like I caused all of this to happen.

So we went home. And I did sleep. And ate. And tried to relax. We came back ten hours later and donned our caps and gowns to finally see our daughter since we left. The sight of her hooked up to everything, under the lamps, machines beeping and her barely moving took my breath away. It was a sight that haunted my nightmares for the next few days. I couldn't stand to see my baby look so helpless and sick.

It is something I never want to see again.

But she was doing better and every hour seemed to improve. Miraculously the sleep had done my body good and I was able to pump out my first milk for my baby that evening, leading to an abundance of a supply as my milk REALLY came in. Haven't had a supply issue since. By the next day our baby had been moved to NICU II, a less intensive care unit (A move they failed to inform us of. Imagine coming in to see your baby and finding her room empty. Yes, I had a heart attack.) Over the next five days our daughter steadily got better and won over the entire NICU staff in the process. Her personal nurse claimed she was her favorite patient and when all the tests came back negative and it was finally time to go home did not want her to leave (we took her back to see her nurse a month later. She was so thrilled to see how big our little girl had gotten.) We had been lucky with the wonderful care our baby received and the fact that she was not the sickest one there. My heart broke for all the tiny babies in their incubators and beds. It has to be a very tough place to work. But then you get happy days like ours when we were cleared to bring our baby girl home. We got a second chance at trying this thing all over and I was determined not to screw up again.

But we're first time parents. So the screw ups kinda come with the territory. Happy to say no more hospital visits though, so score one for us!

The care our daughter received in the NICU was top notch and I firmly believe she got better so quickly because of how good the nurses were in that department. However, the lack of care by the nursery when she was first born is questionable. I can't help but think it may have led to our second hospital stay. If they had taken more time to fully check her over they could have noticed she was not getting enough fluids (we were informed of the nifty divot in the head trick after the whole event. When a baby is dehydrated their soft spot on top of their head will cave in) and encouraged us to give her formula to supplement since clearly she was not getting enough from me. But a combination of fear against telling a breastfeeding mother to give their baby formula and being understaffed caused us to fall through the cracks and it could have had devastating consequences. Look, I want to breastfeed my baby, but if a bottle of formula is going to help her get nourishment I can't give her, by all means, give her the formula! They're so scared to step on anyone's beliefs for their babies they forget they need to do what is right for the child. I stated my issues to several people who called and asked about my hospital stay and experience and I hope that maybe this lack of care doesn't happen to another family down the road.

I'm sure there are things I missed or messed up (I wish I had written all of these posts sooner than now, almost four months later) but for the most part this account is as accurate as I can remember of our entire birth experience. It was a week filled with fear, joy, stress, anger, bliss and more stress. And no sleep. At all. But in the end we got to take home our beautiful baby girl and start this crazy thing called our family.

Stay tuned for the ride.

1 Sprinkles:

pogonip said...

What an amazing writer you are! I enjoyed every word--laughing and getting misty-eyed and grimacing with empathy. It was well worth the wait and us moms know exactly why you didn't crank the birth story out about ten minutes after you got home with your little treasure.

Meanwhile, I'm still finishing off her crocheted hat and making her a cute lil bunny. Which hopefully I'll send before she's one!

Love and hugs and a razzle-berry kiss for that little girl.