Wednesday, July 27, 2011

NICU... The forgotten place.

The doctor fussed about with me, first showing me a syringe that held some anesthesia so he could finish closing me up down there. My husband laughed when he saw how nervous the needle made me. 

"You just went through childbirth and you're afraid of a needle?" he asked, still laughing.

It took everything in me not to smack him. Then I burst out laughing as well. I did go through childbirth! I could hear my baby crying at the top of his lungs while the nurses cleaned him up, took his fingerprints and footprints and got him ready to meet me. 

"How is he? Is he alright?" I asked fearfully.

"Can't you hear his cries? This baby is a strong one! And a big one too! Seven pounds, nine ounces, twenty-one inches long!" proclaimed one of the nurses.

"Huh? Wow, he is heavier than he looks!" the doctor said, turning his attention back to me. "Mommy, you did an amazing job! If all your deliveries are like this one, you can have three or four more babies!"

I looked at him and forced a smile on my face. After going through all the labor and delivery pain, the last thing you want to think about is having another baby. Maybe later, but not right now. Suddenly, a nurse came close to me and placed something small and warm on my chest. Instinctively, I wrapped my arms around the tiny bundle she offered me.

My eyes met his. My Julian was finally here. He was crying at the top of his lungs and he was a pasty white color. His eyes are chocolate brown and his head was full of dark brown hair.  His cheeks small and round were rosy red from crying. He felt big, even then when he was just born. He was beautiful. And he is mine. I cooed softly and began talking to him.

"Do you remember when we drove to places together? I would sing to you and tell you stories! You would kick me, and someday you'll tell me if it was to get me to shut up or because you liked my voice!"

His cries subsided. He fixed his gaze on me. If I didn't know any better, I'd say he was really looking at me; but I know better... he can't see just yet. But he does know my voice, and to him, its soothing. 

"That is so lovely..." the youngest nurse said, dreamily. "He calmed down as soon as he heard her voice! You talked to him often, didn't you?"

The doctor took this opportunity to finish closing me up. He probably thought I'd be too enthralled by my baby not to notice what he was doing. But I did! Oh boy, I did! But as I looked at my baby again, I told myself over and over that it was worth it. It is all worth it, as long as he is here and he is safe and healthy and in my arms. I never want to let him go. I didn't want to let him go.

Alas, I had to. The nurse took him from me after trying unsuccessfully to get him to latch on my breast to nurse him. They decided to take him to the Nursery to have a Pediatrician look him over and I would be able to see him soon. My husband had a camera with him all the time but everything happened to quickly he was only able to take a single picture of our baby as he was taken away. My parents were allowed to come in the Delivery Room and we all hugged and thanked the Lord for my baby.

On the hour that followed, I was wheeled to my room where I took a shower and changed into my pajamas. My parents kissed me goodbye and promised to be back the next day and my husband was sent to fetch our baby so I could try to nurse him once again. I snuggled under the covers, because it was very cold, and waited for my husband to return with my baby.

Ten minutes passed. No one came. 

I was on the verge of sleep, but a terrible feeling took over me.

My baby had meconium in his amniotic fluid. I knew what it meant then. I knew what it meant now. My baby was not alright, as I had been told. Something was going on, and I had no way of knowing until my husband returned.

Twenty minutes passed. I was still alone.

"Lord... please protect my baby. Please don't let harm come to him... please..." I murmured softly, still half asleep from exhaustion.

Thirty minutes passed, and my husband and parents came back. I knew something was happening when I saw them again. They had already said they were leaving, so why were they here? My husband had a blank look on his face.

"Honey, the baby had some trouble breathing. Apparently, he has some meconium in his lungs. They say he will need some antibiotics but he is fine," my dad said, his face calm, as a doctor.

He didn't look like my father then. Just like a doctor. I looked at my mom and she had the same expression. My husband was still blank faced.

"O...k..." I pursed my lips. "He will be alright," I said with confidence.

"Of course he will!" my parents said in unison. "But now you need to sleep."

They kissed me again and left. Just as the door closed, my husband burst into tears. I took his hand in mine and looked at him.

"He will be fine..." I assured him.

"He is in the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit," he sobbed, looking miserable. "The doctor says he might have a blood infection, or a lung infection of some sort. He is so small, and so delicate, and he is sick right now!" he cried again. "Maybe I shouldn't be telling you this, but you would know soon enough. The nurses are allowing me to take you there when you feel ready so you would have found out very soon!"

I squeezed his hand. 

"Can we go now?" I asked softly.

"No. You have not rested yet and you need to sleep. Let's wait at least an hour, then I'll take you," he said firmly.

I didn't want to argue with him. I nodded and laid back on my bed. 

I didn't tell him what I was thinking: if I had know I wouldn't be able to hold him again for some time,  I probably wouldn't have let go of him in the Delivery Room. I fought the urge to cry and stayed strong.

For the following hour, both he and I drifted in and out of sleep. I didn't cry, I didn't even feel sad. I was numb.

"Can we go now?" I asked after an hour had passed.

So we walked towards the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU) at 5:00am in the morning. My husband had to hold me back a little so I wouldn't run. NICU was very close to my room and I was surprised I hadn't noticed it as I was wheeled in. I had seen the Nursery, which was a bit farther away. Why hadn't I noticed this room?

NICU is hidden behind a nearly invisible door. There is only a small sign in front that says "NICU" and the visiting hours (1:00pm and 7:30pm), a small buzzer and a clock near the ceiling. Later on during our daily visits, we parents would look at that clock as if our lives depended on it, waiting impatiently for the minutes to pass so that we could spend time with our babies. Then watching in desperation as the time went by too quickly, and we were forced to leave. Right now, it didn't matter what time it was, I was allowed to see my baby.

We went in, washed our hands and put on the protective clothing over our own. In the distance I saw the incubator that held my baby. My husband helped me walk to him, while pushing my IV cart and suddenly, I was there.

He was beautiful as I remembered. But now he had two monitors on his chest, an IV plugged to his little arm and another monitor on his little foot. There was a dome over his head, which I later learned was oxygen, and he had a temperature. For the first time since I found out my baby was in NICU, my eyes filled up with tears. 

I didn't ask why this was happening to us.

I didn't throw a fit.

Tears ran silently down my cheeks as a nurse told me she couldn't really tell me anything because the doctor wasn't there. I didn't insist. I knew she was just doing her job and I understood. I just wanted my baby to be ok. He was fast asleep and he was breathing hard so I knew he wasn't fine... but I believed. I believed even then he would be fine. I prayed he would be.

That first time in NICU I had eyes only for my child. But as I returned for each visit I began to notice the other babies. Some were incredibly small. Others had deformations on their faces. Another had a huge bulge on his head, which I was later told was part of his brain. Apparently, his cranium didn't close properly and part of his brain had grown out of place. We parents of NICU babies all looked at one another and smiled sadly every time we had to go in, and we all cheered when one of the babies was moved to Constant Care Unit because it meant that the baby was getting better.

In NICU, we were all family. Whether we talked to one another or not, we all prayed for one another and we all cheered our babies victories. Because, as I told Julian one night as I held his little hand through the opening of the incubator, we were all praying for them, but in the end, it was up to them to be strong and get through it all. 

One night, my husband and I stayed in NICU for a little while longer and we met the mother of the littlest baby there. She told us her child had been born on the sixth month, and he had weighted one pound. He had been in NICU for two months now and was nearly three pounds. She says there were a lot of people praying for her baby, and she believes her baby is strong. I believed that too and told her that we, too, would pray for her baby. We were already praying for her baby. We were praying for them all.

NICU... the forgotten place.

Was that the reason Julian had to stay there? To remind us that this place exists? That it is real? A lot of women have babies so naturally. They go in, deliver their child (natural or by cesarean section) and then leave. A lot of others have a longer stay. No one knows. No one cares. No one wants to think about something so painful as a small baby fighting for his or her life just after being born.

Behind that small, easily concealed door, around twelve babies fought valiantly for their lives. And although it was painful then, I am proud that my Julian was there, and I am proud of him for fighting as he did. Not every baby makes it out of NICU, but all of their lives have meaning, and each and every one of them is an angel. What was their purpose in life? We might never now. But they had a purpose. I believe that, from the bottom of my heart.

NICU... I will never ever as long as I live forget that place.

And I will never ever let my child forget it. It was a part of him, a part that will shape his life for years to come.

I vow never to stop praying for the children there.

I vow never to stop praying for the parents of the children there.

Please don't forget them.

To be continued...


Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Just like that, I was pregnant no more...

I was swimming in my parent's pool at 9:30pm on Father's Day, which this year was June 19th, 2011. I had experienced Braxton Hicks contractions all day, so they weren't painful or even particularly noticeable. In fact, the time that I was swimming in the pool I didn't feel any contractions at all. My husband wanted me to enjoy this day as much as possible, and also to get as much exercise as I could so I would dilate more effectively. After all, on Monday I would get a final check up with my OB-GYN and then labor would be induced. 

So I happily enjoyed my day and my swim, thinking that the next day I would be pregnant no longer, and my baby Julian would be in my arms.

At 10:30pm we were still all laughing and having a good time. I stood up to get ready to leave and I felt a sharp pain in my lower back. I felt myself go pale, then slowly I uttered: "I think I don't feel very good. I want to go home and rest..."

Everyone stopped talking and fixed their eyes on me. They would later tell me my expression was completely different to my usual smile, and that all the color had left my face. It was weird enough that I had complained that I wasn't feeling well, especially when I'd been so active and happy during my entire pregnancy, but my facial expression gave away exactly how much pain I had experienced.

My cousin Hiram took everything from my arms and walked me to my car, with my husband following close behind. My husband asked me what I was feeling... the only way I can describe it is a sharp pain in my lower back, and an overwhelming desire to go to the bathroom. Colorful, I know, but that is how I felt. He asked me why I hadn't tried to go to the bathroom at my parent's place. I couldn't answer then, because another deep, sharp pain attacked my lower back. I took deep breaths and replied: "because I didn't feel like going to the bathroom THEN, I feel like going to the bathroom NOW!" He smiled and continued driving. Luckily, we live close to my parents place.

Once home, I put everything away in its place and climbed upstairs to take a shower. During the shower, the pains started getting worse, and there was less and less time in between. My husband helped me dry myself and get dressed and I called my doctor. The contractions were less than two minutes apart and incredibly painful, but he still told me it could take hours until I was ready to have my baby and that it was better for me to wait at home. I called my mom (who is also a doctor) and she told me the same thing. So I laid on my left side and braced myself for a long, sleepless night. My husband fell asleep quickly, not before telling me to wake him if I needed him. It was already 11:15pm. 

Suddenly, I felt amazingly, indescribably bad. I quickly woke my husband and cried: "I need to get up and go to the bathroom now!" He got up and helped me. I hadn't put on underwear for some reason and it turned out to be a good thing, because once I was on my feet, a bloody thing came out of me and a gush of blood ran down my legs. My husband looked horrified for all of five seconds and then whirred into action. He helped me go to the bathroom and cleaned me up. Then he asked me: "What do you want to do?!" At this point, I was lying on my side in bed once again, a very painful contraction came then and, amazingly, my body PUSHED on its own. I looked at him, frightened, and said: "I want to go to the hospital. I don't care if I have to wait for hours to deliver my baby! I'd rather be there, safe, than here wondering what'll happen!"

So out we went. He called my parents and they said they'd be right behind us. He called my doctor, who said the Hospital would call him (he later said he told my husband to call him later) when we got there. 

I'm not sure what happened on the drive there, but I found it mercifully fast. Now the contractions were every minute to 30 seconds, very very painful, and every two contractions my body would push on its own. My husband kept telling me things I can't really recall. I was there, but at the same time I wasn't. It was as if I was asleep in a way... I could barely open my eyes. I was bathed in sweat, even though I was cold, and all I could think about was my baby. Was he safe? Was he ok?

We made it to the Emergency Room and the idiot they have outside told my husband to get a wheelchair and wheel me in. Then he proceeded to walk away. My husband did just that, as I tried my best to climb down from our car and sit down on the wheelchair. Once inside the ER, he immediately drove me in, and one nurse asked: "Is it her turn?" I was completely shocked. Couldn't she see this was a REAL emergency?! I gasped: "I wasn't on the list! I just got here! I'm having my baby!" She gave me a condescending look and asked me: "Are you here because you have some pain?"

I gave her a withering look. "No. I'm here because I am already PUSHING!"

That got them moving. I answered all the questions they asked me the best way I could (gasping sometimes, whispering other times...) and they wheeled me to the OB-GYN room in the ER. My mom got there then and, although I love my husband and was glad to have him there, I was ECSTATIC that my mommy was there with me. The nurse connected me to the monitor (Julian's heartbeat sounded fine) and they could see clearly that the contractions were intense. At one point, mom said: "See? That contraction was softer than the others!" To which I replied: "OR SO YOU SAY!" My husband, my mom and the nurse burst out laughing. I couldn't really see the humor then, but I can kind of see it now... kinda! 

The ER doctor checked me out and declared that I was 6cm dilated. The nurse gave him a funny look behind his back. He said I would take hours to give birth and that it would be painful. I asked if they had epidural or something to which they all laughed and he said: "With much pain, you will deliver your baby." My mom told me he said that, I didn't hear him. If I had I probably would have insulted him for being so uncaring. He walked out and the nurse said: "He says it will take her hours, I think it will be a lot sooner. You are going to the Delivery Room right now!"

So they took me there. I was holding on to my mom the whole way, because my husband and my dad had to go deal with the hospital admission. I held on to her until they told me she couldn't go any further. I turned to her and said: "Mom, I love you... SO MUCH..." She smiled, kissed my forehead and assured me she loved me too. 

It was 1:00am. Once inside the Delivery Room, they asked me if I could stand up and take off my clothes so they could put that ugly thing you have to wear... I did stand up and I tried to be brave and strong. I didn't scream, I just grunted once in awhile when my body pushed. They kept asking me questions, which I answered but now I can't recall. One of them grabbed my arm to put in the IV, another grabbed my other arm to take a blood sample. They both told me to hold my breath as they prepared to pinch me with their needles. I didn't feel a thing... all I felt was the intense contractions breaking havoc in my body. I pushed again, this time deliberately. My cousin Grechi had told me that, unless the nurses said otherwise, pushing would make me feel better. And it did! 

One of the nurses pursed her lips and asked the other: "Have you checked how far along is she? She's pushing already..."

They checked me and looked at one another. It was 1:15am. "She is fully dilated! Which idiot down there said she was only 6cm along?! Did you call the doctor?"

I assumed they meant MY doctor, but they called the OB-GYN that was due to work the ER that night, which was not the same idiot downstairs (thank GOD!) 

A long contraction came and I pushed once again. My water broke at 1:20am. A nurse said: "There's meconium in the water..."

My heart sank. I knew exactly what that meant, but I asked anyways. She explained that meconium is the baby's first discharge. I know that if the baby breathes meconium, it could harm his lungs, other organs or even his blood. But I didn't have time to dwell on it: I asked if my husband could come in. At that moment the doctor came in and allowed my husband to come in as well. 

The doctor explained to me how I was supposed to push and when. He assured me: "Three pushes and it will all be over!"

I nodded. All of a sudden he got very serious and said: "Nurse, could you please get a gauze?" She did. He said: "Would you scratch my nose for me?" 

My husband snorted. 

"Isn't it something that once you get ready and all THEN you get the itch? I mean really..." the doctor continued talking.

I knew there was something really funny about the whole situation. I told myself to remember to laugh later.

The first contraction came, and I pushed. The doctor told me I'd done great, and that he was almost there. My husband looked down and then up at me again. He smiled and held my hand and told me how brave I was. 

The second contraction came, and I pushed hard. I felt something down there tear and I cried out in pain and shock. The nurse told me not to scream, because I could hurt my throat. The doctor said the baby was almost there and my husband, after having looked down himself, told me not to stop, that the baby really WAS almost there.

The third contraction came and with a final push the monitors went silent. My baby gurgled, then cried.

Just like that, my pregnancy was over.

To be continued...