As I sit here with my son sleeping peacefully in my lap, I find that his first two weeks of life feel like a dream. Not a bad dream, nor a good dream, just a foggy dream. Technically he should not even be here yet as my original due date is not until November 18th and yet, here he is complete with a little baby snore. The saying, “Best laid plans of mice and men often go astray” still runs through my head daily. I think it is a saying that all parents are familiar with, particularly new parents! We thought we had an idea of how things would happen and now we know that the baby is in charge and our ideas and plans are simply meant to be changed. As November 17th is World Prematurity Day, this is my story of having a premature baby and our time spent in the Neonatal ICU.
When I left the house on October 7th, I had a full day ahead of me with a doctor’s appointment, a pre-natal massage, errands to get hospital bag items and some baby gear, a family portrait session, and my knitting group in the evening. I was winding down my photography work and starting to prepare to welcome our first child into the world around Thanksgiving. Never would I have guessed that by 11am on the 7th I would be told that I was 9cm dilated and going to have a baby that day! I was in shock and slightly flabbergasted at this news. “A baby? Today! But I’m not ready!”
He was though and our son Brennan Julius was born at 34 weeks and while 34 weeks was WAY better than 33 weeks or earlier, he was still considered premature. During the pushing phase of delivery I not only had the normal delivery team there for me, but a full neonatal ICU team waiting bedside for the baby. We did not know if we were having a boy or a girl, so the excitement of finding out helped to ease some of my many concerns. Would the baby be really small? Would the baby breathe on it’s own? Would the baby have other problems that we did not know about that might have caused it’s early arrival? My mind was whirling!
At 7:06pm when 6lb, 3oz Brennan popped out, we were all surprised at his size! They put him right onto my stomach long enough for me to see that we had a son and for Devin to cut his cord. He was then whisked over to the NICU team’s bed where they started to tap both feet and both arms trying to encourage him to breathe. Everything is very foggy to me after this, but I remember them wheeling his bed over to me so I could see him once more and hold his hand before he was taken down to the NICU. It all went so quickly.
This was NOT how I had envisioned the birth of my child going! I had dreamed of the skin to skin bonding time that everyone says is so important for a mother and child. We had wanted to wait on cutting his cord until it had stopped pulsing. I had envisioned my baby rooting and nursing for the first time moments after birth. None of this happened. For a couple weeks after his arrival, thinking about these missed opportunities really broke my heart. “Best laid plans”! There was nothing I could do to change the past and needed to accept that things had happened this way for a reason. And when I finally got to hold him, it was pure bliss! He fit so perfectly in my arms. 🙂
Having a premature baby is scary, confusing, and frustrating. There are medical terms that you don’t understand, your baby is hooked up to various tubes, wires, and machines that beep and you rarely are told exactly (or roughly even) when your baby will be well enough to go home. We were so blessed though to have a wonderful team of nurses and doctors that took care of Brennan. They were always available to explain things and reassure us that he was making progress even if the progress was small. We were also blessed to have my mum, a seasoned NICU nurse at another hospital, on hand to explain things further. Numerous friends and family also shared stories with us about their time in the NICU with their babies. Knowing how many others had been here before us helped us believe that we could get through it.
I was never truly afraid for Brennan’s wellbeing. Despite being premature, all of his “issues” would be solved as he became a little more mature. I was more frustrated that this was how my first days and weeks with my son were unfolding. I am embarrassed to say this because I had a very “healthy” preemie considering and there were so many other babies around us in the NICU that were genuinely sick or had arrived even earlier than Brennan. I just wanted so badly to be at home with him, but instead Devin and I made the trip back and forth to the hospital daily. We were there first thing in the morning so we could hear the doctor’s report and then I stayed by his bed all day talking to him, holding him, and trying to nurse him. The nurses were very supportive of nursing him and encouraged me to keep trying even when I was frustrated to tears that he would not latch or would latch and then fall asleep before actually nursing. It was all due to his being premature and he would eventually “see the light” they assured me. I am so thankful for their gentle guidance. 🙂
While in the NICU I made a few friends. The NICU is an open space and so you cannot help but see the other patients and their parents. At first I avoided eye contact with anyone else out of respect, but as the days went on I slowly started to chat with the other parents there. We checked in with each other daily to see how “so and so” was doing and to cheer their baby on when they had made some level of progress. It was always exciting when someone got to go home with their baby and even though I always secretly wished it was us going home, I was so happy for them. Our time would come eventually.
As the days wore on Brennan slowly made progress. We cheered when he moved from an Isolette to a crib and was able to wear real clothes for the first time. This meant he was able to control his body temperature on his own! His biggest hurdle was gaining weight and taking all of his meals either by bottle or breast. When he turned 13 days old he removed his own feeding tube. J They took that as a sign that he was done with that thing and ready to try feeding on his own. The test would be to see if he gained any weight the next day by solely breastfeeding. I would be damned if my son did not pass this test and so I sat at his bedside from 9am to 9:30pm watching for him to give his hungry cues and then praying he would latch on and nurse well. He was a champion!
On Sunday October 20th, I had a good feeling as we walked through the hospital to the NICU. Something good was going to happen this day. During the morning rounds the doctors announced that Brennan had gained enough weight back and was doing well enough that he could go home that day. HOME! Home. Oh what a wonderful word! At first I thought I had misheard them and then the doctor repeated it and it was all I could do to not start crying right then and there.
As we finally walked out of the NICU with our baby in his car seat, Devin and I looked at one another and said, “This is real, right?” We had been in the NICU for only 14 days and yet it felt like it had been an eternity. We were so happy to finally be bringing our baby home!
At his 4-week appointment, Brennan weighed in at 7lbs, 3.5 oz. A whole pound more than the day he came home! He is thriving wonderfully and making sure we experience an appropriate amount of sleeplessness. 🙂
While we would never hope to have to “do time” again in the NICU, we could not have asked for a better staff or support system than the one we had at Fletcher Allen Hospital. It felt like they truly cared not only for the well being of our son, but our well being as his parents and for that we are eternally grateful.
Do you have experience with a preemie? Please feel free to share your story in the comments below.