Hear my prayer, hear my prayer, hear my prayer, please God, hear my prayer.
I instinctively checked the monitors as I approached my daughter who was sprawled out, getting a sunbath underneath the warmer. Her stats were picture perfect, I noticed, breathing a little more easily, and I made my way slowly to her bedside where she was sleeping peacefully.
I slogged my soggy bottom from the wheelchair onto the rocker that had been shoved into her tiny NICU room; barely even a room, more like a broom closet. She was sandwiched in between two misbehaving (“misbehaving” means that their alarms were constantly blaring) babies who I could hear misbehaving.
Most of the NICU, I noted as I was wheeled past, was full of Feeders and Growers. That’s NICU slang for babies that were, for whatever reason, finishing their gestation outside of the womb. It”s always evoked a pleasant picture of a garden of freshly hatched babies. A Baby Garden.
Of the other babies that I could see cooking away merrily in their incubators, Amelia was the biggest, fattest, and likely the only full- term baby there.
According to her room placement, though, she was the most ill.
Hear my prayer, hear my prayer, hear my prayer, please God, hear my prayer.
My ass firmly planted now onto the chair (I’d had a traumatic vaginal birth mere hours before), I held Amelia’s lone sock as a talisman, hoping it would ward off the Bad News. I was preparing to nurse my daughter again, just waiting for our nurse to come and help me sort through the tangle of wires my daughter was attached to.
It was hard to believe only thirty or so minutes had passed since we’d heard “there’s something sinister on your daughter’s CT scan.”
Our–Amelia’s–nurse walked in and introduced herself to The Daver and I. I was openly weeping, holding onto Mimi’s sock and my iPhone – where the Pranksters live!- as a life preserver. The Daver was pale(r) and stalwart.
I handed off the box of Kleenex that had been pressed onto my lap as we left Mother/Baby and my daughter was brought back to me, hooked up to so many wires that she looked like an electrical outlet. The nurse stood there, kindly talking to us, but not revealing anything.
We still had no idea what was wrong with our daughter. A diagnosis would take weeks. Her life, as far as we knew, hung in the balance.
I begged the nurse to have the house neonatologist visit my daughter as the pediatric neurosurgeon was busily operating on someone’s head somewhere other than the NICU. It’s probably good I didn’t know where he was or I’d have stalked him down and dragged him to my daughter for a diagnosis.
The neonatologist – the one I’d met a lifetime ago in the delivery room, the guy who was always drinking a bottle of something – he came over to Amelia’s “room” and he told us that there was a “bright spot” on Amelia’s CT Scan. He didn’t mean diamonds.
I had no fucking clue what that meant and he didn’t follow it up with much, although I did see his lips move, I couldn’t understand his words.
Guess that’s panic for you.
After the doctor left, the nurse came back in to ask if we’d wanted to see the chaplain; rather to have Amelia meet the chaplain. A thousand times yes.
She was amazing. Just. Incredible. For the next year, it was her words, her warmth and compassion that I kept coming back to. She blessed my daughter. My daughter was blessed.
And she is so, so blessed.
We sat there in the NICU; just the three of us. I couldn’t tell you how long we just sat. Time in the ICU is timeless. 4 AM and 4PM are the same.
Soon enough, I had to go upstairs to change my undergarments and ready myself to see my boys. My sister-in-law was bringing my sons to visit, and I had to put on my Poker Face. Given the raw, chapped and bleeding state of my cheeks, was going to be damn near impossible.
Back in my room, I saw that I’d gotten some flowers and a basket from two of my Pranksters and it made me cry. Then again, I think the package of Saltines that had been ruthlessly thrown on the floor the night before might have made me cry. I wasn’t in a Good Place.
Alex and Ben came in a bit after I’d gotten cleaned up. I held Alex very, very close as Ben showed me some pictures he’d colored of Amelia. Ben knew his sister was sick but Alex (only 22 months old) had no idea what a “sister” was, let alone what being “sick” meant. I held them and faked normal until I got the call from the NICU. Time to nurse the baby.
Talk about being torn.
I cried as I said goodbye to my youngest son–my eldest just wanted to get home and I couldn’t find fault with that–and he cried and yowled “Mooommmmyyy” as he was led away to the elevators that would dump him back into the outside world.
By myself for the first time, I tearfully found my way back to the Secret Place, The Land of Tears. Never have I felt so sick to my stomach in my life. People stared sympathetically as I wept in the elevator, leaning against the walls for support.
I begged God to let her live, even if she was retarded and her IQ was 43 and had to live at home for the rest of her life, just please let my baby girl live. I didn’t care what was wrong with her so long as she made it out alive. I begged God to take me instead. I’d had 28 wonderful years on the planet already, and she was less than 24 hours old. Certainly, I’d give my life to save her in a moment.
Hear my prayer, hear my prayer, hear my prayer. Please God, hear my prayer.
After scrubbing the top 50 layers of skin from my arm and signing a reasonable facsimile of my name, I wobbled to her bedside. There she was, my girl. Perfect stats, thrashing about her isolette, pissed as hell and looking for something to eat.
In the brief time I’d been gone we’d gotten a new nurse.
When she came in to assess my daughter and saw me crying as I nursed my girl, for the first time in a day, someone asked me what was wrong. I explained that I didn’t know if my daughter would live or die. I told her that no one had told us what could be wrong with her, what that bump COULD be, why she was in the NICU, nothing.
She looked pretty aghast that we’d been told nothing, and for the first time, someone tried to reassure us. I remember leaving the NICU several hours later slightly less burdened.
That night, we ordered a pizza and tried to relax in my somber room. We tried to let go of some of The Fear. I didn’t feel much like celebrating anything, so no balloons, no stuffed animals, no signs that I had just given birth decorated my room. I could have been on any floor, in any room in the hospital.
The nurse brought me my Ambien and the NICU called to tell me that they would bring my daughter up to nurse every 2 hours (the NICU runs like clockwork. It’s no wonder that new parents struggle to care for their NICU graduate when they get home). I turned on the sound machine to blast white noise over The Daver’s snores, and waited, trying to fall asleep.
Unsurprisingly to no one, I couldn’t get anywhere close to sleep that night. This made the tally of nights without sleep 3.
I was about to lose it.
Somewhere around 4 AM, after someone had barged into my room to empty the wastebasket, waking me from the lightest of light sleep, I panicked. I’d sent Dave down to the NICU to sit with our daughter in the vain hope that having him at her side would set my mind free.
I was alone. The panic that had been a constant dull buzzing had morphed into something much more sinister and I knew what was about to happen.
Frantically, I paged the nurses station because I knew I needed help. I explained as carefully as I could that I was about to have a panic attack and that I needed my nurse NOW. My nurse came in, I don’t remember what she did, but she didn’t want to call my doctors because they would be rounding in a couple of hours and I could ask for something for my anxiety then.
She told me to “relax” and then left.
I tried to “relax” which was as useful as punching myself in the face with a hammer. It didn’t work. I put a call back into the nurses station, begging; pleading with them to call my doctor. I begged for help.
My last rational thought was to quickly inventory anything in the room with any sort of calming properties. The best I could come up with was a bottle of Scope.
I didn’t end up drinking it, but I did call the NICU and beg Dave to come back up. A nurse passing by my room took pity on me and called my doctor, who prescribed me an Ativan. A swarm of people all happened to come into my room at the same time: a partner in my OB practice who looked terrified by me but discharged me anyway, a nurse with that beautiful pill, a tech to get my vitals, and my husband.
It sounds, in retelling this, that they were all there to help, but it wasn’t really like that. Dave and the nurse were trying to calm me down, but the tech, the doctor and whomever was washing the floor were doing their jobs. With spectacularly bad timing.
Ativan on board now, I was trying to gulp some calming breaths and stave off the panic. They’d turned off the lights, and covered my still-swollen body with fresh sheets, cleaned off the bedside table and turned on the white noise machine.
Finally, I began to relax and beat the panic away, if only slightly. Dave held my hand and told me over and over and over again that my daughter was just fine, she was perfect, she was wonderful, she’d done great overnight, she was beautiful, she was going to be just fine. It was soothing to hear, but what would have been MORE soothing? Having her bassinet next to my bed where it belonged instead of three floors below.
Then (dun, dun, DUN), the absolute worst person to show up did.
Lactation Services showed up, because they say they’ll come by every day you’re in the hospital with a new baby, and they do. It’s awesome for people who need help because breastfeeding is nowhere NEAR as easy as it looks on those weird Lamaze videos.
(also: why are people in the Lamaze videos always naked?)
But I didn’t need help. And when she showed up and saw me shaking in bed, being held by my husband while the nurse clucked around me like a mother hen, lights off, white noise blaring, she should have excused herself. This is not a debate about breast and bottle feeding, this is about decency. But no, she didn’t get the hint.
She introduced herself perkily and asked me how breastfeeding was going, and through clenched teeth, I answered that it was fine. Kinder than the situation warranted.
I expected this to be enough for her, but no, she followed that up with, “Do you have any concerns about breastfeeding?” Wrong question, dipshit. Time, place, all that.
“You know what?” I snarled, “I’m MUCH MORE concerned that my baby is going to die than if I have proper latch, okay?”
Again, she could have gracefully bid be farewell. But no. She kept on keeping on.
“Well, what about your concerns with BREASTFEEDING?” She asked, just not getting it.
I responded with, “Look, if she’s dead, I’m not going to give a FUCK about colostrum, okay? Please!”
I began to sob heavily again. It was the very real truth that my daughter could die. We all knew it. Nursing her wasn’t going to help an encephalocele.
Dave told her to get the fuck out of our room.
Finally, with a DO NOT DISTURB sign on my door, I slept for a few hours.
I awoke when The Daver bounded in and announced, “the neurosurgeon ordered an MRI! And he’s really nice! And not concerned! He thinks it’s an encephalocele! It’s a piece of brain or something that’s herniated out! We can go home after the MRI! And follow up with the results next week! Oh, I wish you’d met him. He was so, so nice.”
And just like that, we went from critical to discharged in less than 36 hours.