I don’t think we ever realized we were sitting in a labor & delivery room that day. The thought never occurred to me that other people were there, having their own normal birth experiences in the room next door…because I wasn’t there to have a baby that day.
A sonographer came in and did a full body scan of our baby as part of a routine visit to the perinatal specialist. By then the midwife arrived to offer support for me and my husband. We all gazed at the sonogram screen, in awe of our baby’s seemingly perfect little body. The sonographer even commented that he had a head full of hair and then pointed at it swaying back and forth in the amniotic fluid. It was hard to believe that anything might be so wrong with him to warrant the news we received next.
The hospitalist, a total stranger, walked into the room and sat down next to my bed. She looked at me and matter of factly said, “the specialist has had a chance to review your baby’s sonogram. He is too busy in his clinic to step away right now. But based on his review, your baby is in heart failure and has hydrops fetalis. We are going to have to deliver your baby today.”
You could hear a pin drop. Quickly followed by me gasping, “son of a bitch.”
To this very day, I don’t know why those were the words that I chose. Maybe it was because I realized we were about to live out one of my worst fears of becoming a NICU family. Perhaps it was because I had known many babies over the years who did not survive that particular diagnosis. But in that very instant, our whole plan changed.
As soon as the staff heard the plan, they jumped into action. Scurrying around to get me changed into a gown and get an IV started…all the things I had asked them to postpone earlier because I wasn’t sure it was going to be necessary. I looked at the doctor and said, “I want to meet the neonatologist who will be taking care of my son.” She looked at me, alarmed that I would delay things, and said, “you do realize this is an emergency, right?” In my head, it was important to put a face to the person who might be the only one who ever got to hold my son while he was alive. I must have given her a *go to hell* look because she turned to one of the nurses and asked her to page the neonatologist.
While we waited, I told the doctor that I wanted the operating room to be quiet. I didn’t want to hear her talking about what she was doing and I didn’t want to hear the staff chit-chatting about their Christmas holiday and I sure as hell didn’t want to hear Guns ’N Roses, “Sweet Child of Mine” blaring from the radio. I was trying desperately to control something.
Somewhere in the midst of wrapping our heads around what was happening, my husband called our folks, who immediately dropped everything to come to town. The whole thing was so far from what I had envisioned. No excited phone calls. Never experiencing one single contraction. Trapped in a hospital bed with monitors and an IV. Fearful that my baby might die. I mean…come on!
The whole experience in the operating room was a blur. There were troops of nurses and physicians to take care of our baby…so many that I couldn’t even see the warmer where they took him. My husband sweetly seesawed back and forth between me and our son…giving me little tidbits of information. But honestly, it was such a colossal shit storm, that all I could do was close my eyes and tune it all out. The only thing I could feel were the hot tears rolling down my temples.
I insisted that my husband go with our son to the NICU. And in a matter of moments, there I was…ALONE. Not really, there were still people swarming around me. But my heart was not there…it was somewhere else in that hospital…a place I hadn’t been to, but knew all too well.
They finally took me to recovery. I remember asking the nurse if she knew if my baby was still alive. She looked at me, alarmed that I hadn’t heard anything and said she would give the NICU a call. She quickly reported back that he was stable…beyond that, I have no idea what else she told me. She brought me my things and I dug out my phone. For some reason, I felt it was necessary to text our dog-sitter to see if he would go check on the girls. Then I texted my boss to let her know that I wouldn’t be in the next day. It was all so surreal. I had no idea what was going to happen next. And I was alone.
They eventually took me to my room where my husband finally found me. I learned that my kiddo was already playing tricks on everyone…making the doctors scratch their heads about how to bring his heart rate down from 300. Yep, you heard me right. That very morning his low heart rate that caused great alarm was now beating almost 300 times per minute.
I remember my husband showing me a picture of him. All I felt was disconnected. Was he even real?
Friends and family started pouring into my room. I put on a courageous smile but deep down, I was dying inside. Why had it all gone to pot so fast? Why me? Why my kid?
Seven long hours later, my nurse finally asked me if I wanted to go see my baby. I was anxious to get in there…to talk to the doctor, meet his nurse and see what all he had going on. It’s so bizarre when I think about it…I was so far from maternal in that moment. I was in work mode.
He was in a small room in the corner of the NICU. A private room reserved for the critical babies. The room was dimly lit but completely overwhelmed with medical equipment. His nurse, Thad, met us at the door. He quickly recognized me because we had worked together several years before at another hospital. I remember walking up to my son’s bed and peering into his incubator. His little body was so swollen and covered with tubes. Thad commented that he was a handsome boy. That was the first time I can remember having a proud mama moment. If anything, we had made a pretty baby.
Unlike most NICU parents, I wasn’t afraid of all the equipment and I didn’t wait for his nurse to invite me to help. I jumped right in when it was time to change his diaper and take his temperature. I confidently repositioned him, calming him with my hands and shielding his eyes from the lights.
Although it was all very familiar, it was also so alien too. This time I got to love this baby and call him my own. That little detail was what helped me feel connected to this little being in a way that I hadn’t before. It was what kept me from being a robot with my own child and allowed me to feel and see the whole NICU experience through different eyes.
The road ahead was going to be filled with hard times. I had to take my cue from my own kid, who was already proving that he was up for the challenge. I was going to have to dig deep and lean into this detour to motherhood. Because if I didn’t, I was going to miss out on loving this boy when he needed me most.