Sunday, September 8, 2013

the preemie life

My friend is pregnant with twins and recently got put on strict bed rest due to the fact that her baby girl is trying to get outta there. She called me for a little perspective on the whole bed rest, preemie baby, NICU thing.

In the midst of talking to her I realized that now that the whole thing is over and Brecken is a thriving one-year-old who doesn't have much to say, that ten days on bed rest was nothing. In the midst if it, though, it was killer. Being forced to lie in an uncomfortable bed in a hospital room, let people serve me, not taking a shower, and, well, allowing people to clean out my bedpan (I begged and begged to do it myself to no avail...); all of ut was rotten. On top of that, there was all of this "stuff" to get done. Vb stuff, buying a crib and getting a baby room--a portion of the master bedroom, really--ready, laundry and dishes at home. It all had me going crazy.

But here's what I should have been doing: resting. Yes, because after that baby (or BABIES in my friend's case) were born, there would be no time for that. 

Because the preemie life is hard. First of all, the neonatologist comes to come to you while you're helplessly in the middle of preterm labor (which sometimes lasts weeks!) and he gives you the huge list of EVERY POSSIBLE THING that might happen to your baby as a result of premature birth. Their heads are more fragile, making brain damage a slight possibility, their lungs haven't had the benefit of 40 weeks of development, so the baby might no breathe properly at birth or ever. There might be physical deformities or speech problems or huge developmental delays. The list goes on and on, with him listing off the worst-case scenario in every situation because he has to, and you pray your way through it because you know that is the only thing to do. He tells you that "One day of bed rest is equal to three days in the NICU, so keep that baby in there." All in all,  he spends about 45 minutes laying all of this out to you and then asks if you have any questions. (Um, yes: Why is this happening to us?) But you don't ask him that because you know only one knows the answer to that question, and He probably won't tell you exactly what His purposes are. You just know that the Bible says He will make all things beautiful (Ecc. 3:11).

Then the baby is on his way, and the preemie life gets harder. Instead of the three people you wanted in the room with you during delivery, you and 85 of your closest doctor and nurse friends are hanging out in a room the size of a Nicaraguan hut and all eyes are on you from a rather awkward vantage point. You don't have much time to worry about the worst-case scenarios; you push hard and fast because you want that baby out quickly and with no harm. The next thing you know, he's out and you don't get to see him. The neonatologist whisks him away to check for the 497 problems he might have due to prematurity. You watch helplessly from your bed and wonder what's going on over there: tubes, stethoscopes, a breathing apparatus, a doctor and 12 nurses, all dedicated to your very tiny baby with a lot of fight. Finally you're given an update: Baby is fine, breathing on his own, but they will have to do some further tests to make sure he doesn't have the infection that caused your labor (preterm labor, if it lasts long enough, almost always ends with an infection in the womb).

They push his baby cart near you before whisking him out of the door, but--in one of the worst moments of premature birth--you can't hold your baby like you see new moms doing in all of those movies and Facebook photos. He's already out the door to the NICU. You finish up with a few pushes afterward and then get rewarded with a power-snack, since you've probably not eaten for several hours.

As you are pushed out of the delivery room, you are wheeled into the NICU to see your baby again. AND THEN ONE OF THE SMALL JOYS: You MIGHT get to hold your baby. He is TEENY TINY but still cute (mother-eyes see only the beauty), and he cuddles into you like he belongs there. But he won't get to be there very much for the first weeks of life.

Then comes the long road: NICU. You will get released from the hospital a few days later--after you have regained the strength in your legs to walk on your own for a longer period of time, because while on bed rest you lost all of the muscle you ever had. Your baby, however, will stay in the NICU for weeks. You will have to build your schedule around the three-hour increments when you can visit, and if you have a job you will have to decide whether or not to take sick days now and forgo them later when he comes home or go back to work, visit late at night and then have some sick days left later when he comes home from NICU. (I went back to school for a few weeks, 7 am-6 pm for the school day and volleyball practice, then drove 45 minutes back to Springfun to visit Brecken in the hospital during his feeding time, feeling like a bad mom the whole time for not being around the NICU to see him all day and also because I drove right past our house where our 16-month-old was without being able to see him some days.) You will rejoice over every ounce gained and every day gone by without an alert about him forgetting to breathe, and you will get ready to bring him home, which will inevitably take longer than you originally guess. You might even get psyched when you believe he will come home with you on a certain day, then learn that he has had an "episode" of forgetting to breathe for a few seconds, so he can't come home. You might cry in the NICU when they tell you "he can't come home today," but even while tears come down your face you will completely understand and be at ease about the decision because you don't want him to forget to breathe at home with you by yourself.

And then the day comes. After he passes the "carseat test" and proves he can remember to breathe for 24 hours straight, baby can come home. It is a big deal, and you spend the ENTIRE drive home looking over the seat to make sure he doesn't look blue and to be sure his apnea monitor is properly connected.

Then that baby (or babies, friend) is home, and life begins to seem more somewhat normal, or as normal as it can be with a new baby. And you realize that the time you spent on bed rest were nothing, and you would do it all again--if you really had to--for this sort of joy.


(Video is of Brecken's first day of taking steps, a bit behind the "milestone" marker but well worth the wait.)