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...