While I was in the NICU with Miller, I had so many emotions and thoughts about the experience that I wanted to share. I don’t know quite how to articulate everything I felt. I’ll do my best but it’s just one of those things that, unless you’ve experienced it for yourself, you can’t really comprehend it completely.
I had my son on a Monday afternoon. We had maybe an hour together and then I did not see him again until Tuesday night. He was a few hours out of surgery, very swollen from anesthesia, and I was in a fog from my c-section and all that entails. The day after he was delivered, I sat in my hospital room with my mom and Marin, knowing he was several blocks away in another hospital. Having surgery. Without me. Talk about a surreal feeling. Daddio was with him, of course, and his mom was there with him for support. I have lingering sadness about not being there with him when I let myself really think about it. So I kind of just don’t.
My husband wheeled me over to the Level 4 NICU that night after Miller’s surgery. I remember how weird it was that he went straight to the NICU, knew what to say at the desk, got us stickers, knew where Miller was, etc. How did he know all of this about our son and I knew nothing? I watched as he arranged Miller’s tubing and wires and placed him in my arms. This was my son and yet at the same time, it felt like I hadn’t actually had a baby. The section was a very emotionally detached experience for me and I had been in a Labor and Delivery room for 24 hours without a baby. I joked like, “Wait, am I still actually pregnant? Did I really have a baby?” because truly, it was that weird.
The days went by and I was wheeled over twice a day. We made sure to be there every morning when Neo made their rounds. I absolutely loved the neonatologist that rounded on Miller every morning. He was crazy intelligent and had a kind demeanor. One morning, he asked his fellows, “What would have happened to this baby 40 years ago?” The answer was that Miller would have died.
Once I was released from the hospital, we continued two a days. We both drove to the hospital in the morning and stayed for several hours. We would come home in the early afternoon before traffic started. So usually we would get there around 9 am and leave around 2 pm. We hung out with Marin at home, had dinner, and then one of us would go back up with either my mom or dad or my mother-in-law, whomever was at the house at the time staying with Marin. I couldn’t be at home alone with Marin because of my section, so on occasion, the hubs had to go back up alone. The night shift was shorter and we stayed about 8-10 pm. It was just very important to us to go hold him, get updates, and spend as much time with him as possible. I really believe in kangaroo care, skin to skin, and all that. I have read too much about quicker recoveries and shorter NICU stays due to them getting as much human contact as possible. I wanted someone up there holding my son.
Now, my baby was born with duodenal atresia and it was a complete blockage, we later found out. That same neonatologist told his fellows to make sure they looked at the x-ray because it was textbook. Yeah, that’s what I wanted to hear. But even though it was something that shook us to our very core, it was very easy for us to maintain perspective being in that NICU for at least 6 hours a day. A Level 4 NICU is something out of Grey’s Anatomy, people. You see and hear things that most people never stop to think even exist. So while we were going through the hardest moments of our lives, we had the healthiest baby in there. At times, it was uncomfortable for me. There was so much positivity in our situation and all the babies around us were chronic, long-term NICU babies with incredibly sad lives. I felt almost guilty when their families would watch us smile and be happy about how great Miller was doing. It’s a crushingly oppressive environment. I honestly feel as though everyone should spend some time in a Level 4 NICU. It’s the most eye opening thing in the world. Being released to the Level 2 NICU was great for Miller because it meant progress and more personal care, but also, it did not come with the same burdens and emotions as being in the Level 4, so we much preferred it there.
As I write this, it seems blurry and like another lifetime ago. I know if I allowed myself, I could feel the pain and sadness all over again, but what’s the point? I don’t want to think about the hours he spent alone, hungry, and uncomfortable. It’s a rabbit hole I don’t need to go down and it’s not in my nature to dive down it, anyway. Instead, it’s become a very distant thing in my mind. My heart still knows it all happened, and my mind is reminded when I see his little scar, but I have forced myself past it.
My husband and I are better people for going through this, that I know. It forced us to cling to our prayers because that was all we had. Our bond is stronger. Our appreciation for the health of our children is deeper. What we experienced for ourselves, and what we saw others experiencing everyday in the NICU, has etched something into us that I can’t really describe or explain, with the intensity of everything nearly impossible to put into words. We have so many pictures from that time that perfectly show the dichotomy of joy and pain we lived on a daily basis. I’m only sharing a few but I hope maybe they can say what I am unable to.