No one expects to head to the NICU. They don’t prepare parents for that option.
It was nine years ago today that I prepared for my scheduled C-section to be the following morning. It was a Wednesday, the birth was for Thursday morning. I was so devoted to my job that I worked all day on Tuesday, leaving only one day to prepare. My inlaws came to town for the birth of their first grandchild. The bag was packed. The infant seat was loaded in the new van. The bassinet was ready for a sleeping newborn. Everything was in order. And then I started to cry uncontrollably at the realization that starting tomorrow my life would never be the same. I would never get a moment of peace. There would always be someone hanging on me and asking me for something. My ability to just be by myself was over. That was a big deal to me at the time because I had lived a full and busy life as a working professional. I never wanted a child. I certainly never wanted a baby.
My aunt recalls me saying that I would have a baby if I could carry it until it was two. Yeah, I said that. I’m not the baby type of person. Not even a baby doll type of a girl. Something happened in my 30s though. A desire to have a child crept up on me, but I wasn’t married. So here I was that day a sobbing mess, married just more than a year and about to have a little boy. It was like sailing off on a cruise to unchartered waters. I had no idea what was to come. We headed out at zero dark thirty Thursday morning to the hospital.
Here are a few things I didn’t expect:
That hubby would nearly pass out at the sight of them stabbing me repeatedly to get the IV line in my arm. He hit the floor and lost his ability to be in the OR with me to see his son delivered by C-section. I had to do this without him. WTH? They never warn you of that. So dads to be take heed. If you are squeamish, don’t watch anything in pre-op so you at least get the opportunity to pass out in the delivery room.
That my mother in law (the newly appointed second string companion) would not be keen to scratch my nose and eyebrows. They don’t warn you ahead of time that your face will itch like crazy from the anesthesia. So moms to be take heed. Make sure you have a back up nose scratcher with you because…
They don’t tell you that your arms will be strapped to boards out to the side as if you are about to be hung on a cross. I can’t scratch my own nose because I am tied down? Nope. Not warned about that. Not prepared for that. Still traumatized by that, clearly.
That not every baby gets born in perfect condition. Nope. We weren’t prepared for that at all. By the time they stitched me up and wheeled me into post op, the baby was on his way to the NICU. I got about three seconds of him on my chest before they took him away. They didn’t know why his numbers weren’t good and through the night they struggled with him. I called from my room every hour to check on him. He’s the same the nurse would tell me. What they didn’t tell me was that he was crashing and they didn’t know why. At 4 a.m., they called the neonatologist who gave them an idea and it worked. He stabilized. That was the good news. The bad news was he was not making his own cortisol.
We were not prepared for the neonatologist to move him to another hospital, a children’s hospital where they could do testing. I wailed hysterically as they wheeled that baby down the long, stark hall away from me. We haven’t bonded yet. We haven’t filled out his birth certificate yet. I wept and wept and wept. My husband and mother in law went to the hospital. In my post-op state, I stayed behind and that killed me. My OB let me out early and that Saturday morning drive to St. Petersburg was agonizing. I don’t know which hurt worse, the bumps in the road that jostled my incision or the ache in my heart about this baby boy. They were both pretty bad pains, but I swallowed them so hard that there was no choice, they had to make me stronger.
I was not prepared to sit by an isolette and reach my hand through the little hole to touch his body. The first time I touched him. It seemed so unfair that we were here and not going through the motions of baby’s big homecoming celebration. No bow on the door. No balloons in the yard. No first night at home with family to surround him. Instead we had beeps. Oh my Lord, the beeping. Every baby in the NICU beeps. And the soap. Scrubbing in up to the elbows before you can go in. The smell. I will never forget the smell of the soap. And the beeps. I was not prepared for these to be my first maternal memories.
The isolation that happens to a parent with a child in the NICU is part of it. Everyone is focused on the baby’s health. Mom. Dad. Nurses. Doctors. Focus is on the baby. Every minute feels like a hour. Every hour feels like a day. Every day feels like a lifetime. When will the test results come in? What next? And in our case, WHEN WILL THEY FEED THIS BABY????!!!!! It was days before he actually got to eat anything because they had to keep doing tests. I started to become that mom. That pit bull mom who will not let anyone rest until she gets a good answer. I guess God knew that deep inside I was a pit bull and that’s why he picked me to be this angel’s mother. It’s been nine years. His health is mostly fine, but I can still growl if I need to. You don’t want to see me bear my teeth. Trust me.
I also wasn’t prepared to be ostracized from my employer and my so-called work friends. Something changed the minute I gave birth to a high maintenance baby. I was no longer going to be a team player who gave 110% and I guess they knew that. I felt like a meerkat whose pack had turned its backs.
In meerkat societies, subordinate females that become pregnant are often evicted by dominants. The gobies appear to take things a step further, with threat of eviction preventing subordinates from moving even one step higher in rank… More generally, this work raises the possibility that there may be hidden threats influencing individual behavior and group characteristics—threats which are invisible unless the social rules are broken,” he added. Excerpted from NationalGeographic.com
Yes. That’s exactly it. And I’ll save that story for another blog on another day. I became keenly aware of the plight of the working mother in America and it has a lot to do with why I do what I do now. Fighting for families in my own corner of the world. Raising awareness of the issues. Speaking up when I can. Who knew nine years ago when I was crying about losing my way of life that this baby would indeed change my life. In so many more than one.
GoodLiving Magazine is printed six times a year for families in Pinellas County, Florida, home to municipalities including Clearwater, Tarpon Springs, Dunedin, Largo and St. Petersburg. The densest county in Florida, population is near 1 Million people. Past issues are available for viewing digitally on the website.
As an advocate for children and families, Pamela Settle serves as the local committee chairperson for The Children’s Movement of Florida, a non-partisan advocacy organization that works on behalf of the well being of children throughout the State of Florida.