In the small nursery meant for healthy babies, I found him.
I rushed for him like a mother who had found her baby who’d been missing for twenty years, when, in fact, it had only been two hours.
But a lot can happen in two hours.
Now, many parents I know have had babies who needed special care after birth, or the NICU, or life-saving intervention…. so you may think I’m over-dramatizing finding my baby hooked up to all kinds of wires and tubes when I thought everything had been fine. But for me, this was the first time after having had 10 live and healthy births (and three miscarriages) that I experienced the discovery of a baby needing more than breast milk (or formula) and cuddling. Added to that was the fact that I had dozed off and didn’t know what was going on, and I was also still in recovery from childbirth and whoozy from lack of sleep.
So I begged to sit near him. I pummeled them with questions, and they were kind and compassionate in trying to answer them. They didn’t know what the issue was, but his oxygen levels were too low, he struggled to breathe, his blood sugar was dropping despite the IV, and he seemed to be having “mini tremors” that they couldn’t explain. They were waiting on the neonatal physician from Cleveland to diagnose his situation.
I sat there, and suddenly I burst into tears from a mix of relief that he was alive, shock, and post partum hormones coming on…. added to anxiety. The nurses tried to comfort me saying, “He’ll be ok! He’s fine…. we just need to double check everything….” But I was filled with overwhelming guilt that I should “never have dozed off for those 20 minutes, because then this wouldn’t have happened…..” Of course, the nurses said that this had nothing to do with my taking a little nap.
But the guilt remained.
For that instant, I had taken my eyes off him. And even if it had all happened the same with my eyes open, it reminded me of how little control we really do have over our own lives. I’m so used to being ultra-alert with my children, or having family backup (which I didn’t have this time…), and the surrender was horrible. I just wanted things to be normal, to nurse him, to go home…..
They had the transport team already on their way to rush him to Rainbow Children’s in Cleveland where they had a full NICU and all the facilities, facilities with which I was completely unfamiliar, over an hour and a half away (without traffic). I had no idea how or if I had other options…. they said I could refuse medical care, but obviously I wanted the best for my baby. And we needed to get to the bottom of these mini-seizures…. or see if they were actual seizures in the first place, and they didn’t have the facilities or staff necessary.
And so they loaded up my baby, two handsome millennials who promised me that baby Simeon was in good hands, and I believed them. The baby was now in a little “incubator” to keep him warm, and he was going to be transported and admitted to the NICU….
In my head swam thoughts of “what if he just stays on oxygen in this hospital a little more… what if we wait….” But as all those “life-saving faces” stood before me, and I signed the release form, feeling uncertain and confused. They rushed him out of there, and there I stood, in an empty nursery, and I hobbled back to my empty room.
I sat on the bed. The sky was still dark, and I was extremely alone…. now my baby was “somewhere else,” and I was still a patient in THIS hospital…. I suddenly became aware of all the other mothers in the hospital… I could hear babies crying, babies being born, mothers reuniting with their healthy babies… and I was just this woman in this room, next to all of them, and I didn’t have my baby with me. I had never thought of anyone else next to my labor and delivery room before, but now I did. I wondered how many times I rejoiced over a healthy birth in the past, while the mother in the room next to me grieved. What about those giving up babies for adoption? What about those who have their babies taken from them, those who have still births, those who find out “bad news”… all of them… I had no idea…. But now I was aware.
At the very least, I wanted to rejoin my baby and see what was going on, and so I focused all my energy on getting out of there and getting to where my baby was.
Mistake number three: I asked for “discharge” instead of “transfer.” (The distinction had never occurred to me, nor was it mentioned to me, but I would learn the difference later….)
In truth, I was still bleeding, still recovering, and it was less than 24 hours since I gave birth. I was really still a patient myself. But my focus was on the baby. My blood pressure looked good, my vitals were fine, and I got out of there as quickly as possible to rejoin my baby.
My daughter drove us to the huge downtown hospital, and my husband met up with us there. I rushed up the elevator, hobbled (quickly) down the halls, and found Simeon in a crowded NICU room shared by others and a lonely packed-in chair next to his monitored crib. Apparently, his IV fell out during transport and they didn’t realize it until he arrived.
The guilt can back. His IV fell out because I let them take him…. Of course, they reassured me he was stabilizing now with a new IV, and they were still waiting on labs for why he had tremors. Four of us huddled in the crowded room (one of my younger sons had accompanied my husband,) and we sort of just stood there for a while waiting to see what was going on…
The incessant beeping sounds from all the cribs in the NICU were going off constantly, and I realized, where do we stay? What do we do? The rest of my family was miles away, and I needed to still recover, even though I wasn’t focused on myself… The place was so packed and the atmosphere so different from the “spoiled treatment” we enjoyed at the first hospital, that we couldn’t even get answers to our questions. While it was wonderful that so many babies had been born (new life, right?), I was still only concerned about one baby: Simeon.
He seemed to be stable, and I couldn’t see why he needed to be tested in every way possible… but there was the particular moment when the kind nurse answered my question of his discharge with “oh, he’ll be here for several more days, at least.”
I looked at the hard chair I was sitting in, the exhaustion from childbirth was coming on fully, I needed a bathroom, a pad (I was bleeding), and in all this time, my meds for high blood pressure and rest to prevent hemorrhage had come to a complete halt. I thought, wait… what do I do? Where do I go? She said, “you are absolutely welcome to stay next to the baby’s crib in this chair.” (With a bunch of other people in the room.)
I could barely walk still, even to the far off bathroom, and I had no idea how I would even get food or water. I began to feel a gradually increasing anxiety blended with a small amount of outrage, as in, wait…. aren’t both hospitals in the same network? Isn’t there a room near him? What do I do?
I somehow made it to another floor where I could ask questions, while my husband and kids held my purse and bag.
”Who are you?” the labor and delivery desk clerk asked me. While I meekly said… “I… I just had a baby and he’s in the NICU… and I don’t know where I should go….” the trauma within me had already been triggered. The “who are you” kept repeating in my head…. it seemed surreal and unusually cruel for an American hospital or even vet’s office, for goodness’ sake. I had to keep explaining that I was a newborn’s mother. Perhaps it was unusually crowded or understaffed because we were coming up on Easter weekend….
I became physically and mentally overwhelmed, and started to ask myself “who am I”…. a delerium began to take over as I somehow got the clerk to let me into triage to be checked out, to see if I could stay at the hospital. (I learned that a transfer from the other hospital close to home would have made much more sense than a discharge, because now I was not considered a patient by anybody, but rather a visitor, even though I was the baby’s mother….)
I sat in the triage, and the atmosphere was cold and empty, miles (it seemed) away from my baby, and they checked my blood pressure. There was only one nurse there, in my experience, who treated me unkindly. She was the one who received me first, and she asked why the heck I was there and not at my home while the NICU took care of the baby. I said, “Well, I just gave birth and followed my baby… I mean, wouldn’t you?” She looked me straight in the eye and said, “No,” while she rolled her eyes and sloppily put on the blood pressure cuff.
That response was the final trigger for me. We have no idea how one uncompassionate response or action can affect another, perhaps even causing someone’s demise or death… I doubt she realized anything and was probably simply exhausted from a long shift. (I forgive her, by the way 🙂 )…. But at that point, I began to need to go to the bathroom every five minutes, then every minute, it seemed.
I started losing all fluid, I couldn’t eat, I couldn’t think, delerium increased, I couldn’t see straight, and I just laid there in another world….
The resident doctor came in and looked at my unchecked blood pressure monitor. He let out a “whoa!” and left for a few minutes, only to return and kindly tell me that I was being admitted immediately.
Pre-eclampsia had begun….
(… to be continued…)