I wish I could say that when my son was born, everything was hunky dory and we went home on Christmas day. But that’s a pipe dream with a premie. Once Jonathan was born, the OB placed him on my chest because it’s important for mother and baby to start bonding right away. He lay there for a few hours while the OB stitched me up. At one point she exclaimed, “Oooh, this is such an unusual tear! It’s like a star burst!” Great, lady, I’m glad one of us is happy about this ripped up hoo-ha, I remember thinking through the haze of having just pushed a person out said hoo-ha and feeling completely overwhelmed at the absolutely perfect amazingness of the tiny person on my chest. But ah, the glorious moments of soaking in the wonder of my little Jonathan Dean was pretty short-lived. I noticed after a while that he was sort of grunting. I mentioned it to a nurse and then it was time for him to go to the nursery because the nurses wanted to make sure he was breathing alright.
When I joined my husband and little boy in the nursery a little while later after taking a shower, there was a breathing tube in Jonathan’s nose. The nurses explained that premies frequently have “respiratory distress” — breathing too fast, something like 90 breaths a minute, which wears the little ones out — after birth and the breathing tube was fairly normal procedure. Random newborn fact: Did you know that drawing one’s first breath is something like 15 times more difficult than drawing a normal breath? Thankfully Jonathan only needed the tube for about six hours. But later on, Jonathan would get an IV in his head (baby veins are so tiny, often the easiest place to put an IV is in the head) with a glucose drip to keep his blood sugar up. Premies often don’t eat for the first few days because their little stomachs just aren’t ready to. Looking at photos of Jonathan’s “unicorn horn” still make me weak in the knees.
Jonathan also seemed to sprout cables… the doctors and nurses also monitored his blood oxygen saturation and his heart rate. In the nursery (thank goodness they never called it the NICU to my face), Jonathan’s bed was beneath a heater to make sure his temperature stayed consistent until his little body could regulate itself. All this meant no rooming in (having the baby in the hospital room with us). It also meant trips to the nursery every three hours around the clock to try to feed the little boy.
At first, Jonathan’s suck reflex was too weak, hence the pacifier in the above photo to give his sucking reflex a workout. The doctors gave him one bottle of formula at some point to make sure he got some nutrition while I frantically pumped in hopes my milk would come in (while agonizing over my suddenly basketball-sized and very painful breasts … OK they weren’t quite that big but they sure felt like it!). Finally the milk did, just a few drops at first and then in ample amounts (yeah, the deep freeze in our kitchen is full of sacks of milk… I think I could probably feed the neighborhood at this point). But Jonathan couldn’t really suck yet so we used a silicon nipple shield to help him suck while passing a supplemental nursing system cord underneath the shield full of milk. The SNS made it a lot easier for Jonathan to get the milk without having to try very hard. This was important because, like all babies, he lost weight after birth… but for him, that meant dipping to 4 pounds, 13 ounces. Oh my tiny boy.
And like many babies, Jonathan started to look a bit yellowy-orange after a few days. Jaundice is a condition of the liver, which is trying to process bilirubin (helps with pigmenting) in the baby’s blood. The liver is one of the (many) things that isn’t quite fully developed when a baby is born, and so many babies need some help processing the bilirubin under the bili lights, which are UV lights. Safe bilirubin levels are below 12. Higher than that and it’s time for treatment because excessive bilirubin levels can lead to brain damage. The nurses outfitted Jonathan with a face mask thing to keep his eyes covered so they wouldn’t be damaged by the light, and he got to lounge in the nice, heated bili lights box while a noise machine played sounds of ocean surf. Truly, like a day at the beach. Jonathan got two trips to the beach while we were in the hospital, the first for about eight hours, and the second time for 18 hours.
So where were Shawn and I during all of this? Well, Shawn drove back and forth from the hospital to home every day to feed the kitties, pick up fresh clothes, and get a little time away from the hospital. I only left the hospital in the last couple of days because of the constraints of Jonathan’s feeding schedule (every three hours). Frankly, it felt like the twilight zone in there. The days dragged by, but they zipped by, too. And honestly, I think completely living in the moment for that week kept Shawn and I from truly realizing the gravity of the situation, of having a premature baby — alone just us two — a thousand miles away from family. We just didn’t think about it. And that saved us.
And there were really good parts of that week in the hospital. Marveling at our beautiful son and his strength. Loving each other more than ever now that we have a child together. And for me, feeling a little bit of wonder at myself for giving birth. But by the end of the week, we were more than ready (and a little terrified since we wouldn’t have a bunch of nurses just down the hall anymore) to go home.
It’s not been an easy two months since that time. But it’s been a great two months (despite the fact that I have never been more tired in my life… getting up every three hours during the night takes a toll on a body). And I had Jonathan weighed today. Ten pounds, 9 ounces. More than double his birth weight. Still he continues to surprise. What an amazing son I have.