That first day at the new hospital was physically exhausting. The most walking I had done since giving birth six days earlier was to go from our car in the hospital parking lot to the NICU after Andrew was transferred, and even that had felt like a stretch. But that was only the beginning.
Andrew’s neonatologist needed to know my blood type, and that information hadn’t made it over from the hospital where Andrew had been born. Even though I knew my own blood type, the doctor wasn’t prepared just to take my word for it, because if I was wrong, it could have serious consequences for the baby. Rather than waiting for the other hospital to send the information, he decided to order a blood test for me. However, since I was not a patient at the hospital, they couldn’t come draw my blood in Andrew’s room. Instead, I was sent to the lab to have my blood drawn as an outpatient. I meekly assented, and after giving my unresponsive little baby a tender, longing look of farewell, I set off in the direction a nurse indicated.
The hospital was huge. And I don’t mean a single large building with multiple sprawling wings. I’m talking about a sprawling campus with multiple multi-story buildings. Even though there was supposed to be an indoor (or mostly indoor) route, my best bet for finding the lab quickly was to go outside and follow the sidewalk along the edge of the parking lots until I came to the right building. It was sweltering outside, but I walked as quickly as I could, eager to get back to my precious, helpless little baby up in the NICU. The distance was farther than I expected, but I finally made it to the lab, damp with sweat and probably slightly out of breath from trying to speed walk less than a week after giving birth. I took a seat in the enormous, air-conditioned waiting room. There were a number of people before me, but eventually my name was called, I got my blood drawn, and I hurried back to my baby.
I went through the check-in routine to re-enter the NICU and returned to Andrew’s room. He looked exactly as he had when I left, as if in a deep sleep, with a total of nine different wires and tubes coming of his little body. I probably pumped some milk to be ready for his next feeding, and by the time I was done with that, it may have been time to feed him by squirting milk into his feeding tube and change his diaper. At some point, my own need for nourishment forced me from the room again, and I set off to find the food court.
Thankfully, the food court was in the same building, but it seemed like a long walk. I remember being partway down a broad, stone-paved corridor that was flooded with natural light from a row of windows along one side, in a rush to find food and then get back to Andrew, when something happened to slow me down.
Suddenly, I felt my uterus starting to slip out of my body.
Thankfully, I was actually within sight of the entrance to the food court, so I sort of shuffle-waddled my way inside, trying hard to look as natural as possible. I got some food, gingerly sat down to eat, and somehow managed to make my way back to the NICU, at a much slower pace than I had used to go to the food court. I contacted my midwife and described what I was experiencing, and she expertly explained what I needed to do to get my uterus back in place and exercises to do to keep it there, hopefully. She also left me with a piece of parting advice, “Your body is telling you that you need to slow down.”
After that experience, I found myself extremely prone to repeat episodes of what is called uterine prolapse. I could manage walking around the NICU, but no matter how slowly I walked to and from the food court, the distance was just too great, and I’d always end up waddle-shuffling to make it back to the NICU. I began to dread those walks, but it was my only way to get food. This was the background when my mother-in-law called to ask me how I’d feel about her coming from Indianapolis to help me. She seemed to be afraid she’d be overstepping some sort of unspoken boundary, but I was overjoyed at the prospect of having her help and company! As I recall, she drove up that very same day and immediately installed herself in the guest room I had thought we’d have no use for. She took it upon herself to bring me all my meals, and as a result, I don’t think I stepped foot outside the NICU again until Andrew was discharged. I was more than happy with this arrangement. I had everything I needed in the NICU. There were even showers, as well as elevator access to a small private courtyard that was open to the sky and had a fountain and beautiful landscaping.
We settled into a comfortable routine that revolved around Andrew’s care. I was feeding him every three hours around the clock, and in between those feedings, I’d express milk. Even with the hospital pump, this process took up a lot of time, probably about an hour from the time I began applying hot compresses to encourage the flow of milk to the time I finished carefully labeling the bottles of milk, storing them in the mini fridge in Andrew’s room, and washing all the pump parts in hot, soapy water.
I also spent time each day doing what they called “kangaroo care.” The hospital strongly encouraged moms and dads to give their babies the benefit of skin-to-skin contact, as studies had shown that babies who received this kind of care fared better. So I would spend as much time as I could in the recliner in Andrew’s room, holding him on my bare chest while he slept in nothing but a diaper, with a warm blanket over both of us. Getting into and out of this position was a tricky business, requiring a nurse’s help, because of the bulky oxygen tube, almost the diameter of a small garden hose, delivering the heated, pressurized oxygen that was the only thing keeping Andrew’s blood oxygen levels where they were supposed to be. Because it was much heavier than the light-weight tube that was attached to his face, it had a tendency to pull the oxygen tube out of Andrew’s nose if the larger tube wasn’t properly supported while Andrew was being moved and repositioned. Picking up Andrew required two hands, and supporting the oxygen hose required another, so I always needed help just to pick my own baby. But once we were all snuggled up in the recliner, I couldn’t imagine anything sweeter on earth. Andrew’s nearness and helplessness melted my heart, and I believe I received as much comfort from these kangaroo care sessions as he did.
In between all these activities to care for Andrew, I would do things like sleep and eat and shower. I had almost no free time, but I felt fairly relaxed, because I had enough time to do everything I needed to do, and I had absolutely no outside demands on my time. In fact, I quickly came to see this time in the NICU as a gift. What other mother of five could say that she got to spend all the time she wanted resting and simply cuddling her newborn?
The nursing staff was also busy with Andrew’s care. I had taken on the responsibility of feeding him, but he was receiving two different kinds of antibiotics intravenously, and it seemed like they had to change the site for the IV every day, because either it would become inflamed or it would simply stop flowing. Inserting a new IV cannula was a lengthy, traumatic process for everyone involved. Andrew, who up to this point had still never opened his eyes and was unresponsive to most stimuli, was very vocal about his dislike of needles. As soon as they began poking him, he would start to scream, a heartbreaking and pathetic newborn cry, sounding something like a baby lamb bleating angrily. And though these nurses were experts at finding newborn veins, routinely taking blood and placing IVs on babies much smaller than Andrew, for some reason they had an extremely difficult time finding Andrew’s veins. They had an interesting device that even provided enhanced visibility by shining a bright light through the infant’s limbs to provide a backlight that helped the veins show up more clearly, but it still usually took multiple tries to get a needle into Andrew’s veins. The difficulty was compounded by the fact that after a few days they were actually running out of suitable sites to use for the IV.
I remember one time when a pair of nurses worked for half an hour without being able to get a needle into a good vein, and they finally had to take a break, both for themselves and for Andrew, who had been bleating hysterically for the full thirty minutes. I felt shaky and tearful myself. I usually maintained physical contact with Andrew during these ordeals, touching him, speaking softly in his ear, nuzzling his cheek. But with two nurses working on him, I was in the way, so I’d been forced to retreat to the couch. It was agonizing to hear my baby being tortured and not be able to help or comfort him.
Read Part 5.
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